Besides the new sign colors (and the bad weather), this miserable December day was hard to distinguish from the same day any other year. Campaigns for the two highest offices of the council have always stuck to posters to get their messages out. Beyond poster drops, door-to-door visits from candidates, websites of varying degrees of slickness and a lot of screaming outside of the Science Center, these campaigns have long seemed reluctant to adopt more creative measures—use of a yellow bird outfit in the 2003 campaign of Aaron S. Byrd ’05 aside.
We think this dearth of creativity can be traced to campaign funding and regulatory rules established by the Election Commission (EC), an independent body of seven students drawn from the council and the Harvard student body at large. While these rules are in large part reasonable and aimed at preventing campaigns from disrupting life on campus—for example, candidates cannot campaign in dining halls and their supporters must observe postering rules—the $100 per candidate cap on spending discourages candidates from seeking new, exciting ways to advertise to voters and get a larger chunk of the campus involved in campaigns that will ultimately affect undergraduate life at Harvard.
During council presidential campaigns, many large room parties are thrown with the tacit approval of different candidates, and usually the candidates themselves make an appearance to try to sway voters. Yet these parties cannot be officially affiliated with candidates because their costs would take huge bites out of each campaign’s $100 war chest. In the same vein, campaigns would be hard-pressed to pay for armbands for supporters to wear, mini CD-ROMs with informational videos about each candidate or other small giveaways like bottle openers or even stickers with such a small budget. With each 8 x 11 poster pegged at an arbitrary amount of $.03, $100 just doesn’t go too far. Moreover, because anything out-of-the-ordinary—mini CD-ROMs for instance—requires a custom cost estimate from the EC, it can be hard for campaigns to plan for costs they can’t even begin to approximate.
Now that the council has expanded its budget (and plans further expansion next year), we feel that they should allow the EC to offer campaigns more money—up to $400—to explore new avenues, with the ultimate goal of motivating more students on campus to care about the council elections. And while we’re not suggesting that the Commission value everything from party streamers to fifths of Bacardi, more set values for more campaign-related materials would be helpful to aid candidates in planning out their mode of attack. Finally, campaign activities like ordering those aforementioned stickers should be allowed to happen earlier than the official start-date of campaigning. It may be the council president’s and vice president’s job to speak for the student body, but unless they can excite a wide spectrum of Harvard undergrads through their campaigns, their voices will never reach full strength.