Friday, April 18, 2014

Revote on the MPIRG referendum

Originally published in The Mac Weekly.

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This is not the time for a debate on whether MPIRG should receive special funding from Macalester. We need that debate, but it was supposed to happen through a referendum.

Every three years, Macalester holds a referendum to let the student body decide if MCSG should continue its contract with MPIRG. Supposedly that happened through the referendum passed two weeks ago.

It didn’t.

Somebody cheated Macalester out of that discussion by holding an illegitimate referendum. Here are four ways the referendum failed to pass the smell test:

1) Only MPIRG, and presumably members of MCSG, were notified of the premature placement of the referendum on the ballot. This effectively meant supporters of the referendum could organize while opposition could not. I found out about the referendum through Mac Confessions a couple of days before the vote. Seriously? No MCSG email, no inclusion in the Daily Piper, no posters, nothing?

2) Separate ballots for MCSG elections and MPIRG. On the email for the official ballot were three links. First, the ballot for MCSG Executive positions. Second, candidate profiles. Last, the MPIRG referendum. That meant that you had to click the third link, separated from the first one by a link that contained no ballot, in order to find the referendum nobody was told about. Unsurprisingly, turnout dropped by over 50% between the MCSG presidential race and the MPIRG referendum.

3) The ballot editorialized. For those who bothered to click the third link on the email, they were treated to several reasons within the ballot language why you should like MPIRG. “MPIRG has worked to protect the environment, fight domestic violence, educate voters and create more affordable housing,” it said. Opponents of the referendum were not even asked to place opposition language.

Bonus problem: While MCSG thought it was a good idea to separate candidate profiles from the ballot for MCSG candidates, apparently they assumed MPIRG’s advocacy should actually be ON the ballot.

Any questions?

I will not blame MPIRG for this. They didn’t ask for an election rigged in their favor. I sympathize with their desire to expand electoral participation, even when I disagree with the details.

But I will blame anybody who uses the “referendum” we had as an excuse to let the contract with Macalester continue. That includes MPIRG, whose leaders know that the referendum did not meet their own standards and ideals. That includes MCSG, who botched this whole affair.

Somebody screwed up and called an illegitimate referendum. The mistake is unacceptable but it’s in the past. Now it’s time to fix the problem. Not with a special commission or an MCSG committee that cannot fix the problem for three years. With a re-vote.

Don’t let us down again, MCSG.

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