Candidate estimates fall short

By Matt Gilbert

As elections for the Student Association Senate continue, there remain two burning questions: Where have all the candidates gone, and is the election process in need of reform?

This year, the SA handed out 103 candidate petition forms and packets to interested students. Spirits were high at the SA office as estimates that an unprecedented number of at least 50 students would run on the official ballot.

But when the deadline for candidates to turn in their petitions to get on the official ballot finally came at 4:30 p.m. Friday, the air of disappointment and frustration was irrefutable.

“I’m kind of dissapointed,” SA President Abe Andrzejewski said Monday. “But there’s going to be a lot of write-in candidates. Hopefully no seats will go uncontested.”

The number of candidates who made it onto the official ballot this year totaled 32, up from last year’s number of 24 but down from 1990, when 41 candidates were on the ballot. In that year, it was estimated that 65 people picked up candidate packets.

“People are lazy. They don’t want to get 200 signatures,” Andrzejewski said. Candidates need the signatures of 200 students before their names can be put on the ballot.

Veterans of the SA senate like Jim O’Shea know that there is no need for a petition drive if a student wants to serve on the Senate. Simply getting between 55 to 105 write-in votes customarily will get a prospective member on.

For students in the tightly-knit Greek Row district, it usually isn’t very difficult.

“Most of Greek Row knows what I’ve done for them. If they really want me to be on there I can probably be re-elected to the second district,” O’Shea said Tuesday. O’Shea also was elected as a write-in candidate last year.

Alice Hallam is running as a write-in candidate from district three. Hallam decided to run after her organization, Students Who Are Non-traditional (SWAN), met and decided they needed to run a candidate. Unfortunately, its first meeting occurred the day after petitions were due.

Even though almost all prospective senators may sound enthusiastic about the position before the election, the fact is by the middle of the first semester, the SA usually has to find replacements for senators with poor attendance records.

What’s going on?

Andrzejewski said this year, prospective senate candidates were warned that the SA expected strong dedication of time and effort.

“A lot of people didn’t want to make the time commitment,” Andrzejewski said. “We stated at the candidates’ meeting that we didn’t want anybody who just wanted to put it on their resume. We wanted people who were dedicated, not somebody who was just going to come in for two hours a week. That might have scared some people off.”

This year the SA plans to implement some new responsibilities for senators, such as having all senators sit on committees and participate in SA events.

The extra time commitments were designed to make the senators more accountable to the electorate, but might have had the unintended side effect of narrowing the pool of available candidates.

This year the SA particularly targeted younger students to run. One freshman from Stevenson South, who did not want to be identified, said, “I decided that I don’t really want to do it my freshman year. I have a lot of things that I have to get used to. I didn’t know if I could handle all of the responsibility.”

With all the drop-outs before the election even begins, certain districts wind up under-represented.

According to SA bylaws, if a Senate seat is left vacant in any district and there are no official or write-in candidates left in the district to fill it, the candidate with the most votes left from the other districts will fill it.

This means that some districts go over-represented, usually Greek Row or the towers, and others go under-represented, like district one or the Neptune/Gilbert/University Plaza district.

Possible solutions do exist. The SA is working up a co-op program to entice potential senators and hold them accountable. Such a program would give senators internship or other credit for their service. Perks for senators, like discounts on Center Cafe food also are being considered.

In an effort to fill last year’s Senate ballots, the SA reduced the petition requirement from 200 signatures to 100. But again this year, the Senate ballots remain unfilled. Maybe it’s too early in the year to hold elections.

One idea the SA does not take kindly to is to simply reduce the number of Senate seats. SA Public Relations Advisor Anna Bicanic said reducing the number of seats would not necessarily produce higher quality senators.

“In any organization you are going to have people who are more active than others. We’ve never had a problem with senators not knowing what’s going on, not getting involved in the system or not showing up,” she said.

Bicanic said just by running for Senate the students show that they are willing to get involved and work hard. According to Bicanic, cutting down the Senate would reduce representation and diversity within the organization.

Some of the people who picked up packets might have felt their efforts might better be spent elsewhere. Stacy Spletzer first came to the SA with a complaint about parking on campus. While pursuing her complaint, she picked up a candidate packet. Spletzer eventually wound up on the parking committee, abandoning her run for SA senate.

“You can interview all of the other administrators and find out that overall we’re doing very well in filling all of our committee positions. As of now all our positions within staff and advisers are filled,” SA Vice President David Gonzalez said.

“Just by seeing all those people there taking an interest, that was reward enough,” Gonzalez said.

People who have NIU student I.D. cards will be able to cast their ballots until 6 p.m. today. Polling places carry official ballots and candidate profiles and are located in the Holmes Student Center on the ground floor hallway between the Center Cafe and Diversions, in the main entrance hallway of the Founders Library and in the street entrance to DuSable Hall.