Good, clean elections, that is what Melissa Waßmuth, board member of the student representation party Novum, is pleading for. No more laptop-voting, no more chasing voters. To get ethical elections we need a code of conduct, she says.
May 21st it all starts again! Like every year a few students in party gear will turn the elections for the University Council and Faculty Councils into a week of craziness, running after the voters rather than running for votes. Many students only participate in the elections just to be left alone.
Actively campaigning for a higher turnout is one thing. Turning the elections into a caricature of what democracy and representation should be about is another. Voters are literally ‘taken’ through the process; candidates will press the buttons for them. In the evenings people out partying get laptops shoved into their faces – whether a drunken person can give an informed vote is not considered. Emails are sent out at large to the masses of first years who are not yet familiar with the election procedures, giving incomplete information and stating false promises.
Why is this wrong? Because elections are a fundamental element of democracy; they should be free, fair, direct, and secret and aiming at informed votes. Where else if not among an educated, academic community, should these democratic principles be upheld to the largest extent possible?
Novum has been part of these procedures as much as everyone else. This means a constant weighing of interests – sticking to one’s values and risking to lose seats or being pragmatic in order to maintain our position of actively taking part in the decision-making process of our university. The fact that we have found a middle-way for ourselves is no real solution.
Last year the university offered neutral voting booths, yet they were used only to a small extent – usually voters could not even reach the booths before they were addressed by the parties with laptops. What could be done in the future is: Firstly, a code of conduct must be established defining undesirable practices for parties and candidates. As the parties cannot find a common denominator, the university must step up and bring forward ethical standards to ensure fair elections as it is common at other Dutch universities. Secondly, neutral voting booths should be the only way to vote during the elections. Thirdly, it would be an option to separate the election process into a week of campaigning and subsequently a week of voting in order to allow for students to freely make up their minds.
We call upon the candidates and parties to make the best out of the upcoming elections. We appeal to all voters to inform themselves. The university website as well as the party websites offer ample information and all candidates will be happy to lay out their ideas for the next year. And we call upon the university to pick up their share of responsibility.
Melissa Waßmuth is board member of the student representation party Novum