Communication Failure, Again

Elections postponed again because Illingworth, council perpetually unable to cooperate

Chalk it up as miserable failure number three for the current administration of the Undergraduate Council. In a voting debacle which follows a cancelled concert last spring and the closing of the UC Books website, the council pulled a good Florida impression by utterly botching its online voting process.

The elections, slated to begin at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning, were postponed only hours before they were supposed to start by Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71. They were rescheduled to start at noon yesterday, but that was pushed back as well. In the wee hours of this morning, the voting finally began; all undergraduates should wake up to an e-mail containing a unique voting link. Still, the long-delayed elections are even more of an embarrassment than the computer glitch last December during the council’s presidential elections, when a faulty computer clock caused students to receive error messages after voting.

The postponement of the vote seems to have resulted from yet another communication breakdown between the council and Illingworth’s office. The council has designed a new web-based voting system, which was intended to simplify the complicated process known as “ucvote” that used to be run through telnet. However, when Illingworth found out that this process would involve private student information (Student ID and PIN numbers) being stored on non-University servers, he balked.

Why, we all wonder, was the issue still unfixed the day before the election was scheduled to begin? The situation is eerily reminiscent of last May, when students had their hopes raised and then dashed when a planned Wyclef Jean and Jurassic 5 concert was cancelled because Illingworth and the Harvard Concert Commission, a subsidiary of the council, were unable to reach agreement in time to actually sell tickets to the concert.

Of course, not all the blame should be placed on the council. Certainly in the case of the concert and the election, the dean’s office should be held accountable for not making its concerns clear—nor timely—enough to allow the planned events to go forth smoothly. In both cases, Illingworth had reasonable objections to the council’s plans, but there’s no excuse for leaving the difficulties unresolved and then canceling activities as a result.

Now that the election has been delayed multiple times, it is sensible that the council has sent an e-mail to all Harvard undergraduates explaining how and when the vote will actually take place. Some people worried that this would technically violate the University’s “anti-spamming” rule. But in this case, sending an e-mail to all students is proper—it informs students of what is going on and will likely increase voter turnout.

None of these ideas addresses the deeper problem with council elections—that representatives are usually elected not on any platform but on name recognition and prominent posters. As in past years, there are four Houses that have fewer or an equal number of candidates running than spots available. Encouraging candidates to come up with specific ideas and priorities before the election would likely increase voter turnout and spur interest in the council elections. It would make much more sense—and help the representative democratic process—if candidates posted small summaries of their platforms on the election website. In this way, the council would get more candidates of substance.

It seems that the current council administration, unlike the communicative and energetic group led by Paul A. Gusmorino ’02, has a bad habit of leaving negotiations and agreements involving the administration to the last minute. In the future, council leaders must be sure to plan events well ahead of time—and they should be absolutely sure that they and the administration see eye-to-eye. Simple communication is all it takes to prevent these ridiculous mishaps from happening again.

Dissent: Democracy Must Be Enforced

The Staff would like the council to be more democratically representative of the College.

Regardless of whether this is an admirable goal, the Staff’s proposals would not achieve it. Democratic institutions are inherently unstable and require enormous input of energies if they are to be instituted or preserved.

Nonetheless, despite widespread voter apathy, if the Staff truly wants council elections run on platforms and issues, rather than as silly popularity contests, then more substantive efforts, must take place. An online-only voters’ guide, while cheap and easy, discriminates against those students who don’t browse the UC website or aren’t interested. Printed guides—perhaps one page with candidates and positions for each house—must be distributed to the electorate by dispassionate third parties. It must also be possible to vote online and in the dining halls.

—Paul C. Schultz ’03