Thirty-eight demerit points were given out during this year's USC presidential election. In the end, it didn't really matter.
Team Tobi received 26 demerit points, Team Jan/Mohammad were handed 12 points while Team DiBrina managed to end the campaign without any infractions. But did any of that have any effect?
While some voters may have stayed away from campaigns that racked up an excessive amount of points, most likely dismissed the penalties as just part of the process. We would love to have every single campaign play by the rules but politics is inevitably a little dirty — rules will try to be skirted and manipulated.
Especially when certain rules seem laughable. Candidates received demerit points for having the USC logos in videos, wearing purple in campaign material and for "pre-campaigning" by sharing a Gazette article before the campaign period about the lack of women who have ran for USC president. These all seem frivolous — is someone going to gain votes because someone was donning a purple Western hoodie in a video?
Demerit points should target actions that give candidates unequal access to voters. There should also be real penalties. Huron's electoral procedures are much more sensible compared to the ones that govern USC elections. For each demerit point, candidates lose 5 votes. That may seem like nothing but in the last contested election, there were 503 votes (and a 41 per cent turnout.)
At Huron, with a higher voter turnout than main campus has seen, candidates lost about one per cent of the vote for each demerit point. If you scale Huron's model for our voter population, that could have a big impact on elections.
A model where campaigns are penalized by losing votes adds a real incentive to staying within the rules. Right now, a campaign could rack up demerit points to gain advantages, staying under the 31 needed for disqualification, and face a small financial penalty.
Bluntly, the demerit point system right now is toothless. The current structure is almost comically unimportant. It's almost as though these rules have been made expecting a certain amount to be broken. The solution is pretty simple:
Remove the infractions that are superfluous and have no effect on who people vote for. Clarify the rules that create an unfair playing field — for example, more concrete rules dictating Facebook campaigning. Finally, reform the system so candidates lose votes instead of money for breaking rules.
With some reform, maybe we wouldn't have seen 38 demerit points in this election — or at the very least, they would have meant something.