All-candidate forum 1: the problem with AMS elections

The all-candidates forum today (at least the first half I attended before my laptop battery died and my parking expired) didn’t so much showcase candidates’ platforms but more so the state of elections. I counted no more than 2-3 persons who I did not recognize as candidates, candidates’ campaign assistants, or media. Perhaps the first half had particularly low turnout – you would expect it to be at 11am on a Tuesday, amongst the most class-heavy times of the week.

Of the 8 senate candidates, 2 attended (AJ Hajir Hajian & Spencer Rasmussen). No one else provided any info regarding their absence in advance (that Erik seemed to be aware of) and only Justin Yang did anyone marginally know the whereabouts of.

At least for the Board of Governors race, 5 of the 6 candidates attended (1 of who–Sean Cregton–has since dropped out). Presumably Ben Cappellacci had a reasonable place to be and communicated that as he wasn’t called for though there was no representative, prepared statement, or explanation about his whereabouts.

The forum tended to go like this: a candidate would go up, say 1-5 lines about themselves, open it up for questions, then basically joke around with the media, hacks, the elections committee, and each other. It’s good that there’s a cordial environment but this just illustrated that 1) no one cares about these events except people who are already very familiar with the candidates, 2) candidates are well aware of this (yet some are still willing to humor it either out of “professionalism” or simply a mindless sense of duty), and 3) no one seems to care that this is the situation.

Sassan “SuperSexySass” Sangsari highlighted this well. He went up and quietly encouraged us to start clapping and cheering loudly on his mark to draw the attention of people beside the hacks who were there. Whether this had a punctuated effect isn’t clear but really, tripling the number of mildly interested outsiders would not be a major achievement.

The real kicker was that he stated, “I’m not a joke candidate but this is a joke.”

The elections are a joke. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours are spent on promoting the election and yet about 1 out of every 5 students WHO VOTED only knew about the election by word of mouth. Compare that to 1 out of every 30 students who voted only knew about it through the media.

The elections have become an exercise in navel gazing. We promote the consumption of media and analysis but the group that’s reading it isn’t expanding. Candidates and media are jovial with each other because their personas and perspectives are already well formed.

The election is just a way for the student government elite to self-select and choose amongst themselves. Everyone at the forum today oozed a feeling of disregard – we all knew this was a meaningless exercise in ritualism: the forum for the sake of the forum.

I’m not trying to say that the AMS needs radical change, at all. But, it’s become clear to me that people don’t care to vote because the status quo is fine for them. People only come out to vote to actively support the status quo (UPass referenda) or defend it (ousting scandal-makers). The election only matters to a select class of students because of the competition to get to the inner circle. This election is particularly drama and scandal free so expect lower turnout than last year.

I’ll quickly go through the Board of Governor candidates since those are the only ones worth comparing between.

AJ Hajir Hajian – 4 priorities: sustainability, UBC’s governance as a city or whatever, housing, & tuition fees.
Sean Cregton – nevernmind, now.
Sean Heisler – did stuff, will continue to do stuff like make it much easier for students to proxy open seats.
Sassan Sangsari – acknowledged that no one gave a shit and made explicitly unrealistic promises.
Sumedha – some more boring rhetoric like the others but honest that her experience is totally relevant.

-Ricardo

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