Opinion | SGA elections disappoint yet again

Alex Jobin, Staff Columnist

The unofficial results are in for the spring Student Government Association election.

Yet again, this year’s elections were dominated by representatives of the Machine rather than representatives of campus.

In fact, this entire election cycle seemed to differ very little from the disturbing norms on campus: It was plagued by controversy, corruption and a voter turnout of 28%. 

If we hope to ever achieve the ideals which many of our SGA candidates flippantly spout in their campaign platforms, we need a change. 

As of Tuesday, March 8, Madeline Martin has been tentatively named SGA president-elect. Martin’s campaign was backed by the Machine, a not-so-secret secret society that controls campus elections through the corruption of the SGA and Greek organizations. 

This Machine affiliation made Martin’s campaign inherently problematic, but her candidacy became even more disappointing after a violation was reported claiming that Martin’s team had exceeded the $750 campaign spending limit. Martin’s opponent Sarah Shield and her team filed the report.

Martin denied that $969.38 worth of spiral-bound notebooks emblazoned with “Madeline Martin SGA President” were campaign materials. However, they certainly seemed to fit the Elections Board’s definition of “paraphernalia bearing the name, logo, mark, or likeness of a candidate, including but not limited to flyers, literature, pamphlets, buttons, clothing, table tents, advertisements and electronic communication.”

Blatant disregard for election rules and guidelines is not unheard of here at the University — indeed, it feels just as familiar as Bryant-Denny Stadium or Big Al.

Just last semester, McLean Moore was elected homecoming queen despite multiple reported violations of the Elections Manual. Moore’s election was supported by UA faculty, including former Vice President for Student Life Myron Pope, whose response was wrought with misinformation.

Attempts by the University to enable unfair election practices have only worsened over time. The reported violation of Martin was initially dismissed by the Elections Board. Garrett Burnett, Shield’s campaign manager, appealed the decision, and the violation will now be reviewed by the Judicial Board. 

Such a clear disregard for the rules of our campus elections occurring with little-to-no resistance is disheartening. The fact that the Elections Board’s decision even had to be appealed is disturbing. Students deserve more than an SGA that openly ignores violations of its own standards.

Shield’s campaign was certainly not flawless either. Although her consistent fight against the Machine and her substantial campaign platform was initially praised by many, Shield experienced her own controversy the day before the election. Shield attracted unwanted attention on campus when a photo of her attending a Young America’s Foundation conference was circulated. 

YAF is a national conservative youth organization which has been “consistently linked to racism, Islamophobia, transphobia and other harmful ideologies,” as The Crimson White’s Editorial Board recently wrote. 

The photo in question led multiple campus organizations — including The Crimson White — to alter or retract their original endorsements of Shield.

“I am not a member of YAF, and was simply at this conference for the purpose of networking and civic development,” Shield said in her response. “I strive to seek out differing perspectives.”

Shield also revealed to The Crimson White that she was previously a member of Argentum, another secret society on campus that “aims to improve campus, but opts to do so in secret.”

Shield’s controversies may be less substantial, but they still demonstrate a lack of transparency — the same transparency that she, Martin and nearly every SGA candidate claim to uphold. 

This most recent election cycle has illustrated that real systemic change is still badly needed in some of our university’s most respected institutions. Superficial demonstrations of progress may have been attempted after the laughable homecoming queen elections last fall, but nothing has really changed. 

The Machine continues to control our elections, violations continue to occur unabated, and those we look to as our student leaders continue to underwhelm. The worst part: The SGA actually desperately needs the changes many of these candidates promise to deliver. 

Those who are elected seem incapable or unwilling to pursue these promises, and those who legitimately wish to make a change cannot seem to defeat the monster of the Machine. 

The SGA continually fails to represent the interests of the students who make up its constituency. As a recent Crimson White article by SGA Sen. Justin McCleskey describes, senators often “applaud the intent” of legislation representing student interests, but do not support them where it matters: their votes. 

Despite her controversies, Shield’s proposals of mandating SGA office hours and increasing the Counseling Center’s budget are just a few examples of changes the Capstone could benefit greatly from. Unfortunately, existing forces — namely the Machine — seem to have created massive roadblocks that will not allow such ideas to ever materialize.

So, what can those who hope for a better future and real systemic change at our university do? 

First of all, vote. Turnout for Tuesday’s elections was a mere 28.23%, with only 10,065 votes cast. Until more people choose to make their voices heard, our student government will never reflect our campus’s values.

Students can also attend Senate meetings, where they have the opportunity to make their voices heard. Even posting on social media or having discussions with friends, peers and roommates can help generate the change in culture that we are looking for. 

I would also encourage students to speak out about the ongoing appeal process for Martin’s recent campaign violation. We must make sure that the Judicial Board understands that such infractions can no longer be tolerated.

Student elections at the University have become little more than embarrassing spectacles. Change is long overdue, but unfortunately it still seems out of reach. If the SGA still hasn’t learned from its many embarrassments, it’s time we teach it. While it may take years to dismantle and repair our broken elections, we must start now.

Questions? Email the opinions desk at letters@cw.ua.edu.