At last week’s Senate meeting, Duke Student Government moved up the 2013 election for president and executive vice president from mid-April to the first week of March. Because of this change—and the reality that DSG election policies invariably change each year—we take the opportunity to ask whether the current system, in broad terms, is as good as it could be, and what the ideal DSG electoral process would actually entail.
The two key issues are the optimal start and end dates of a DSG representative’s term and improving the transition of power. While we commend the earlier March date for the upcoming election, there is substantial room for improvement on both fronts.
Although it is natural to think of a DSG term spanning the two-semester academic year—starting in September and ending in May—a more effective system would more holistically consider the calendar year. Terms more fitted to the calendar year would mean an earlier election and earlier power handoff. The current academic year term has a number of adverse effects, including the lame duck period that stifles productivity at the end of the spring semester—a time when current representatives are just waiting for their successors to take over. Seniors especially often slide into idleness.
If, on the other hand, elected representatives were to take office immediately, the lame duck phenomenon might be entirely avoided. This is not to say that incumbents would give up their influence immediately. To the contrary, we agree that the break-in period for newly elected representatives—including intensive mentorship—is invaluable. An earlier transition would mean a much smoother transition.
Another advantage is continuity of advocacy. In the second half of the spring semester, newly elected officials could start implementing their platforms immediately. Not only would this incentivize greater productivity in the Spring, it would also allow for meaningful work over the summer months and make it easier to hit the ground running at the start of the fall semester—a period usually plagued by inefficiency and slow startup.
Continuity between Spring, summer and Fall is crucial. Last spring, then-senior Ebonie Simpson, DSG vice president for student life, began her sexual assault state of limitations advocacy. Junior Stefani Jones, DSG vice president for equity and outreach, continued the project throughout the summer—as did DSG president Alex Swain, a senior, who was in Durham also preparing other projects for implementation in the fall. Continuous advocacy clearly led to greater DSG success. An earlier election would benefit continuity by giving DSG representatives a firmer foundation in the Spring.
In order for these DSG representatives to be effective during the summer, they also need to have significant time to spare. With internship recruitment and commitment timelines often taking place in the first two months of the calendar year, moving DSG elections up even further—perhaps to the beginning of February—would allow candidates to plan accordingly.
While we recognize that any dramatic revision of election and turnover policies will be difficult to implement in this year due to uncertainty about existing term lengths, DSG positions should work effectively throughout the calendar year in order to keep pace with University business.