Updated: Aug 2, 2021
The recent demise of the moderator of elections.
In the days leading up to a student council election at Columbia, Facebook is swarmed with memes, updated profile pictures, and cover photos emblazoned with the faces of strangers and slogans that are rife with inventive puns about rappers and the gorgeous shade of toothpaste that is our school color. In an almost-welcome break from the apathy that radiates from students as they rush from classes to Ferris to Butler amidst the crush of midterms, one might receive a passing smile and nod from a person they don’t know too well who is running for election.
While it would not be unreasonable to conceive of these elections as do-it-yourself publicity campaigns that greet first-years in the fall and the rest of the undergrads in the spring, student council elections are not fueled solely by the promotional efforts of candidates. Student councils have, in theory, an apparatus tasked with promoting elections: the Columbia Elections Board (CEB). An interschool committee founded in 2013, the CEB consists of a small group of students from CC, GS, and SEAS that are selected by the student council to oversee and publicize elections. The board meets before elections in the fall and spring to plan debates, mixers, info sessions, and rules meetings for candidates. Student councils create the elections rules and give them to the board to carry out.
The informal publicity that candidates bring to an election by drumming up support for themselves is not quite a substitute for the official publicity that an administrative, non-elected student board would draw to an election for the election’s own sake, for the informal route would promote candidates proportional to their popularity. But CEB has often seemed to have had other concerns than providing an alternative source of publicity from candidate outreach. One was logistical: the board already had a lot on its plate handling other administrative aspects of elections, including processing rules violation submissions, in which candidates found to have violated a rule would be subject to some sort of penalty. The other concern was moral: by largely refraining from publicizing first-year elections when voting periods were open this past fall, the CEB seemed to imply that calling attention to an election for the election’s own sake was not something a group like CEB should do.
Just this fall, CEB was criticized heavily by student council leaders for not spreading news of first-year elections via email, Facebook, or its website.
After the conclusion of fall 2017’s first-year elections, CEB president Charlie Kang (CC ‘19) stepped down from his post. Kang was the only member left on the board at the time he resigned. “[CEB] is supposed to be an administrative job but it becomes political because there’s a lot of weight with our decisions,” Kang explains. “It’s especially hard with elections because when you make a ruling, just because there’s going to be a winner and a loser, and people who are winning will like the decision and people who are losing won’t like the decision. There’s always going to be two sides to it, and what happens is we’re never [right], there’s always going to be someone saying we’re wrong for every single decision that comes out. So I personally don’t think it’s a job that a student should be taking.” Kang’s idea of a possible solution might lie in delegating some, but not all, of the tasks, to members of the Columbia community who aren’t students and, of course, redefining the description of what the CEB is supposed to do, so there is less misunderstanding on the part of student councils and the board itself.
CCSC met before Thanksgiving break to elect a new interim chair of the Columbia Elections Board. A surprisingly high number of candidates competed for the position, with CCSC Sandwich Ambassador emeritus Joshua Burton (CC ‘18) garnering the most votes. As CCSC resurrects its annual promise to revise election rules to make life easier for the CEB, The Blue and White hopes Burton will succeed in his goal to recruit a diverse and reliable board.