By Vivianne Hericks
Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was entirely reported, written, edited, and fact checked by members of the journalism course. Some material may have been altered by The Herring’s editors to fit its style guidelines.
— AMSTERDAM – On May 9, the new members of the Amsterdam University College Student Association (AUCSA) were announced to the student body. Similar to the last year, only one of the selected board members was not proposed by the Elections Commission (EC). The question of how much the Commission’s recommendation influences the voting process was once again cause for discussion among AUC students.
Not all students agree on the necessity of announcing a proposed board. “I feel as though by suggesting a board they influence the voters to vote for the people they think will work best together, instead of letting the voters think who they like best for certain positions,” said Alizé Kock, a first-year science major.
A look back at the last three elections shows a trend in the outcomes. The six members of the 2016-2017 AUCSA board were all previously suggested by the EC. Last year, five of the six members were suggested by the Commission. Second-year humanities major Lasse Rogie was the only candidate who, despite not being recommended, became Secretary and joined the board of 2016-2017. This year, Noa Smits, a first-year social science major, who was not among the suggested contestants, succeeded to fill the position of Committees Affair Manager (CAO) as the only non-suggested board member. Smits first received the same amount of votes as first year social science major Evi Sifaki, who was proposed by the EC, and then succeeded in the second election held between the two. While there are exceptions to the trend, the decision of the EC appears to influence students in their decision who to vote for.
According to the Policy Manual, the Election Commission is a supporting body of the AUCSA and formed on initiative of the Advisory Council. It exists for the duration of the election cycle and is composed of at least one former or current AUCSA member, one former or current member of an AUCSA committee and one former or current AUCSA member of distinction. The 2017 Commission was run by Stephanie Berendsen, a graduate intern; Danielle Wagenaar, a third-year science major; and Maarten Albers, a third-year science major. The administrative steps of the election are entirely executed by the EC. The AUCSA is in charge of the promotion and is not initially informed about who is running. The candidates send in their applications, motivation letters, and their CVs to the Commission and are then invited for an interview. Based on the results of the interview, the Commission proposes to each individual candidate what position may suit them best. “The interview is the most important factor for us,” said Wagenaar, a member of the EC. This factor is later taken into consideration when it comes to proposing a board to the students at the General Assembly.
Wagenaar stresses the importance of the Commission. “It’s really hard to tell who is a capable candidate if you don’t know them personally,” she says. “You can’t judge who’s going to do a good job based on first impressions.” The EC was founded in order to provide a separate body to assess the candidates and to avoid the election of members based on their popularity among the voters.
In order to meet the candidates and ask them questions, the students are able to attend a debate prior to the election. “Most of the people who vote did not see the debate and only vote for someone based on their two minute speech,” said Calvin Smid, a third-year social science major and voter. As a result, they base their choice on the last step in the election process, which does not provide enough information about each candidate. “I think the proposed board is really relevant for the people to make a well informed decision,” Smid added.
Vera Grosskop, a second-year science major, agrees with Wagenaar and considers the process particularly important to avoid votes being cast based on popularity. “AUC is such a tight-knit community, the likelihood of knowing someone who is running is big, which can cloud your opinion,” said Grosskop.
While students like Kock would like to see the proposed board removed altogether, other students think it could be improved by moving the announcement to a different date before the actual elections. “Announcing it directly before voting has a direct impact on what the way voters think, without time for reflection, this can lead to bias and skewed results in favour of the proposed candidates,” said Muzi Ndiweni, a second-year science major. However, others argue that having the suggestion prior to the election could have an impact on the candidates’ final speeches, as it may influence their confidence. “This would be unfair,” said Heleen Vos, a second-year science major. Many students report to be influenced by the Commission’s suggestion; however, this is not necessarily perceived as problematic, but important for selecting the appropriate candidates. “As the EC, we are confident that we’re really proposing the best candidates and we only want the students to be informed rather than to convince them who to vote for,” said Wagenaar.