Campus elections have just ended. While congratulations are due to those who pushed student participation over its 33 percent threshold — the percentage needed for ballot measures to be considered — a discussion of the voting process is needed.
Too often on this campus, campaigning and the act of voting are mixed. When students campaign as well as provide a place to vote — in the library, Quarry Plaza, or anywhere else on campus — they are infringing on a voter’s right to privately weigh the candidates and measures without outside influence.
The right to a secret ballot — a vote that is cast in private without the influence of campaign slogans and signs — is essential to the democratic process.
While campaigns may not be prodding voters at their tables to vote in a certain way, their presence distorts the concept of a secret ballot.
UC Santa Cruz’s election rules do not explicitly forbid mixing the act of voting and campaigning, but they should.
Student Union Assembly (SUA) Elections Code states that candidates cannot “knowingly and actively campaign within 20 feet of the any SUA or College government polling location, provided that the polls are properly marked off.”
Avoiding this mixture is tricky, considering that all of our voting is done online. Anyone with a table, a laptop, and Wi-Fi access can create a polling location. What is missing, however, with our easy access to voting is strong protection for the secret ballot.
In any local, state, or national election, campaign posters and flyers must stay a certain distance away from a polling place. In California, campaign paraphernalia must be 50 feet away from a polling station.
Campus elections should reflect these standard rules. We should explicitly ban the mixing of simultaneous polling and campaigning. Campus groups actively campaigning for ballot measures or candidates should not be allowed also to provide a place to vote. The UCSC SUA should create nonpartisan voting booths across campus, staffed by non-affiliated observers, to make voting simple and unbiased.
Campaigning and voting are both important parts of democracy. Campaigns work to educate people about the issues and candidates so that they can make informed votes, and a voter station gives people a private place to think about their decision. They are both important, but when they are combined in the same location, they potentially cause bias and distort the democratic process.
Students should vote on their own volition, not by persuasion. Campaigns should stick to motivating and educating students through debates, education about the issues, rallies, and advertisements. Students will not show up to vote if they don’t care. Student organizations must make them care about the issues, not simply ask them to vote.