Can we call it an election anymore?
Since its first elections in 2006, the University Park Undergraduate Association has always had competition for the top spots in what is supposed to be the representative body of some 40,000 Penn State undergraduates — until now.
That kind of power is nothing to take lightly, and neither is the fact that a fraction of the student body even stepped up to get involved this time around. But a look at the first moments of this campaign season only reaffirms why some students might be hesitant to bother trying.
Hours after campaigning officially began Monday, Aaron Dillen and Elias Machina — two students not currently involved in UPUA who were running for president and vice president, respectively — were disqualified because Machina might not have fit eligibility requirements to run after all. This decision came from the same the people who initially approved their spot on the ballot.
Dillen wouldn’t have been permitted to find a replacement running mate because presidential tickets are “jointly liable” for violations under UPUA regulations, as explained by Head Elections Commissioner John Zang.
But Zang — who until recently was the UPUA Chief of Staff, working directly with the opposing presidential candidate, current UPUA Vice President Katelyn Mullen — and other commissioners seem to avoid treating Dillen-Machina fairly, given the oversight on their part. Zang admitted to overlooking potential issues with Machina’s academic status during the registration process, though it’s theoretically part of their job to screen candidates in advance.
As it stands, barring write-in candidates, students don’t have a real choice in this year’s executive race.
Mullen is vying for the presidency unopposed, alongside running mate and past UPUA representative Brenden Dooley. If elected, she would continue a line established by Courtney Lennartz in which the current UPUA vice president takes over the following year as president. While she might be qualified for the position, the absence of any real competition from inside or outside UPUA is discouraging, to say the least.
Moving forward with only one ticket represents a concession on the part of UPUA that there’s a lack of legitimacy to its electoral process. But it’s not too late to give students a reason to care.
Recognizing the unprecedented nature of this year’s executive race — not to mention the relatively low level of interest displayed across the board — UPUA should reopen registration, make a serious effort to invite more students to apply and adjust the voting timetable to accommodate these changes.
Otherwise, it’s hard to call this a real election.