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Unexpected Drama

Now here's something I never thought possible. Elections to the Columbia Law School Student Senate just got acrimonious. I'll admit to being asleep at the wheel last week (too much work), so this came as a bit of a surprise.

According to the Official Student Senate election site, in my year there were 16 candidates competing for 15 seats. As Prof. Yin would probably agree, a reality show with this election as a premise would be a real snoozer. Accordingly, on Wednesday I "changed channels" and went to a lecture of securities law in Asia. I didn't vote. Little did I know that over on the Senate Broadcasting Network, the news bulletin equivalent of the Kennedy assassination was in the works.

You see, this wasn't really the list of candidates. Or rather, it wasn't the only list. Over at this website, an alternate slate--with additional write-in candidates--had been put forward. I certainly hadn't seen this site, and if it was emailed out generally, I missed it. But I have it on good authority that it was specifically emailed out to the mailing lists of LALSA, and SALSA[1], as well as the American Constitution Society. This stealth campaigning seems to have been magnificently successful: the majority of candidates on the slate seem to have won. Meanwhile, some long-standing incumbents in my year lost their seats.

Hence, an election I expected to be a foregone conclusion wasn't. There's some acrimony within the student body, as well as a petition to overturn the elections. I won't pretend to know enough about how the Senate elections work, so I couldn't tell you if the petition has a chance. So long as write-in votes are allowed, this the outcome has the feel of something legitimate, and a sterling example of the use of information to change outcomes. The targetted emailing of supportive groups, the attempt to charge up small constituencies to build grand coalitions... it's a set of tactics Karl Rove could love.[2]

On the other hand, there's the whiff of the smoke-filled room about this. One would have thought the entire point of there being a ballot was to advertise the presence of those running to those who might be casually interested. Meanwhile, who were the directors of this bit of political theater? (According to the site, "This election initiative and the final slate of candidates that has been put forward were established by consensus within an informal working group composed of student leaders in both public interest and identity groups at CLS, which has met periodically throughout the year to collaborate on issues of mutual interest." Is that a Montecristo I smell?)

That I didn't have notice of this is a pity: a real election campaign would have been grist for a lot of good writing. (Well, a lot of writing, anyway.) And imagine if it had inspired the Federalist or the Republicans or whomever to put up their own write-ins? I might actually have been inspired to vote.

As I'm typing here with torrential rains splashing down and winds worthy of Fujin beating at the windows, I'm wondering how much weather and politics we can import from Florida. Because emotions are running high among some of the parties involved, I'm turning comments off on this entry. (Anyone with updates or disagreements can mail me, though I don't promise to respond.) In the meantime, I heartily await seeing what the reaction to this will be in the next election: after all, if selective campaigning for unballoted candidates is a winning strategy for one group, what will happen when everyone is doing it?

[1]: For those not familiar with the acronyms, that's the Latin American Law Students Association and the South Asian Law Students Association. I'm sure they weren't the only identity groups to get the slate forwarded to them, but I think that's enough for one to get the point. A full list of student organizations is available here.

[2]: Those of you who read me on a regular basis, by the way, will know that's not an insult, although I rather imagine some of the candidates would find it an uncomfortable comparison.

UPDATE: I'll probably make a few grammar and spelling changes to this entry, which I'll probably mark via strike tags, since I won't have comments in which to post corrections.


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