In a memorandum sent to Dr. Mark Nelson, University of Alabama Vice President for Student Affairs, SGA president James Fowler has recommended a series of revisions to student government elections policies. Judging by the lack of interest in this year’s election, his advice should be seriously considered.
In previous years, students running for office have passed out stickers and used chalk to write their name on sidewalks across campus in order to generate interest in their candidacies, build name recognition, and engage students in the elections process.
This year, though, the use of stickers and chalk was banned. The result was much less student interest in the campaign. When we interviewed students for The Crimson White’s Student Sound-Off during campaign season, many were unaware that campaigns were even underway.
Such a scenario was unimaginable before chalking was prohibited, when chalk-covered sidewalks served as a daily, unavoidable reminder that the election loomed.
Fowler has produced two sets of recommendations. The first would allow chalking and stickers without changing the current campaign spending limits. The second would allow chalking, prohibit stickers, and raise the amount of money candidates can spend on their campaigns. This would allow them to replace inexpensive stickers by permitting more money to be spent on expensive promotions like koozies, banners, cups and buttons.
Both proposals would allow candidates to take out SGA loans equal to the spending limit for the office they are seeking.
Both proposals would also set a minimum and maximum number of debates and establish a clear process for student organizations wanting to host a debate.
While either set of recommendations would be an improvement over the status quo, we believe the second set of recommendations offer the best hope for creating a fair and engaging election process in the future. An increase in campaign spending limits is long overdue, and allowing candidates to secure campaign loans would help students from lower-income backgrounds.
SGA president-elect Grant Cochran and his former opponent, Coresa Nancy Hogan, have both expressed support for Fowler’s proposals. “The stimulating atmosphere that normally surrounds campaign season was largely lacking from the 2011 elections. I believe this is due in large part to withholding chalking as a campaign method,” Cochran was quoted as saying in the memo.
Hogan said, “One important tool for visibility is chalking. This is an invaluable resource that is also the most cost effective.”
Some University departments have opposed chalking on the grounds that private businesses use chalk to solicit students. Therefore, chalking privileges have been limited to student organizations, which does not include campaigns. We see no reason why campaigns cannot or should not be allowed to gain these privileges next year, though.
We hope the administration will consider these reforms and help make elections more energetic and, hopefully, more competitive.
Our View is the consensus of The Crimson White editorial board.