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Raise the Signature Bar

Getting on the UC presidential ballot is too easy, which hurts the quality of debate

By Adam M. Guren

Given the $400 campaign budget and the ruckus that engulfs the campus every December, one might expect that becoming a candidate for the Undergraduate Council (UC) presidency is a difficult and painstaking process. But all it takes to get on the ballot is to find 150 people to sign their names and write down their e-mail addresses—it doesn’t even matter if the students have signed another candidate’s petition. Finding signatories is something most candidates do in an hour.

This year, seven tickets declared their intention to run for UC president and vice president, the most in recent memory. Although one ticket has dropped out of the race, the high number of tickets only hurts the quality of debate and confuses voters. The UC Election Commission (EC) needs to make it more difficult to get on the ballot.

While voters benefit from the presence of a variety of different platforms and a vigorous campus debate, several candidates seem to have decided to run without careful consideration. For instance, Omar A. Musa ’08 and Daniel Ross-Rieder ’08 said in a letter explaining why they dropped out of the race that when they decided to run they were “drunk with idealism” and that “with our lack of experience in student government, it would not be fair to ask the student body to put its trust in us in governing the College, when we ourselves are not even sure how the UC really works.” There are currently no real hurdles to force spur-of-the moment candidates to think their decision through before running.

This leads to candidates who do not further the debate but instead confuse it. Some may argue that Harvard students are smart enough to see through the fog of hopeless promises, but many Harvard students are too uninformed about the UC’s inner workings to know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea that sounds good.

The UC presidential race is the one time every year when students pay attention to campus politics. If it is to become a great debate about how students view Harvard—which it can and should be—the EC must make it more difficult to become a candidate.

The EC can do this in a number of simple ways. First, the EC should dramatically increase the number of signatures required to get on the ballot. Second, the EC should allow students only to sign for one ticket; currently the names and signatures are only vetted to make sure the signatories are in fact current undergraduates. Candidates who are fully invested in running should still have no trouble getting on the ballot.

Third, the EC might consider making it more difficult to sign for a candidate; the current sheet is often filled out with a mindless flick of the pen, and some students don’t even know what they are signing for. Requiring that students fill in more information might make them think twice before signing.

Adam M. Guren ’08, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is an economics concentrator in Eliot House.

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