SWIL Election Mechanics

It seems like we as an organization have problems every year around this time. From my point of view, these problems seem to come from trying to form a single viable coalition well before the election. I understand that the motivation behind this is to create a set of SWILPresidents that will (a) “be best for SWIL” and (b) minimize offending other non-members.

Most of the badness seems to center around the cloak of secrecy that generally surrounds the formation of said coalitions. The idea seems to be to have the coalition fully formed well in advance of making the general SWIL populace aware of who is in the coalition. The problem is that, in order to form the coalition, you need to talk to people, which means that word is going to get out. This is particularly an issue if more than the standard three people want to be president.

I think we should consider a more democratic method of electing the SWILPresidents. SWIL as a whole should know what’s best for itself, and be able to pick three individuals who will best serve as co-presidents. There are a number of different methods that could be used, including approval voting (take the top three vote-getters), or everyone gets three votes, or something else entirely. I think that making the election more than just a big inside joke would help more than it would hurt. It would eliminate the secrecy that tends to cause methods.

The only major problem that I can forsee is that we could end up electing three individuals who can’t/won’t work together. I would hope that this is the sort of thing that we as college students can resolve.

What is the history of SWIL election methods? I know we haven’t always had trifectas, but has every trifecta been a pre-made coalition? Can we avoid this sort of thing in the future?






65 responses to “SWIL Election Mechanics”

  1. sildra Avatar

    One problem–a major thing the current system tries to avoid–is that if there are more people seriously running for SWIL President than can actually serve, there will be hurt feelings among the losers.

  2. irilyth Avatar

    My favorite suggestion to date has been to make the post essentially open to volunteers: Anyone who wants to be SWIL president signs up, they get together in a room and talk it over, and anyone who still wants to be president after that organizational meeting is in. (This last clause just to give people a chance to have second thoughts, or to decide they can’t work with the rest of the group, or whatever, before it’s official.) If you want to be even more organized about it, write down a list of the responsibilities of the office, and have that organizational meeting be where all the volunteers decide who’s going to take on which responsibilities. It doesn’t particularly have to be even; we’ve had presidencies before where one person did all the work and the other was a figurehead, and they worked fine. :^)

    That’s what I think anyway. The whole secret coalitions thing seems bad and weird to me.

  3. sildra Avatar

    We tried something like that my sophomore year. It was disasterous. There were at least seven people at the end of the meeting who still wanted to be SWIL president, some of whom were still threatening to quit SWIL if others became president. I don’t recall that having them all in a room together improved anything… Although I imagine that whatever is happening this year isn’t nearly as bad.

    As far as I know, the secret coalitions thing only started last year–my sophomore and junior years, at least, people knew pretty much right away who was planning to run with whom.

  4. kid_prufrock Avatar

    Why do you think people wanted the coalitions to be secret, anyway? To avoid hurt feelings?

  5. sildra Avatar

    I don’t know. I know that, junior year, if it had been secret things almost certainly would have been worse than they were. But at the time (senior year, that is) I barely knew the people who were being secretive anyway, so I don’t entirely know what their motives were. Somehow, I doubt it was to avoid hurt feelings, though.

  6. nautiluspq Avatar

    Hmmm. I don’t think that voting for individual people would work, as a) you’ll get people who just don’t like each other serving as Presidents, which won’t make working together very pleasant or easy, and b) you’ll get people who would make great presidents, just not grouped with each other. I certainly think that a more democratic method is best, though.

  7. rabican Avatar

    We’re working on it, eh?

  8. carpenter Avatar

    My first presidency, i had been planning from fairly early in the semester to run with a good friend. At some point during the semester, we stopped speaking to each other, but wanted to run anyway, so we needed to solicit a third person, which we found. I don’t think we actually knew for sure that no one else was running, and we fully expected that everyone would vote for the salt and pepper shakers.

    For my second presidency, i was talking to KT in something like March (so nine months in advance). I said, “So, i think i’ll want to be president again. Want to run as a duo this time?”, and she agreed, and that was basically that.

    I don’t think the problem is secret coalitions, which just amount to people figuring out who they think they could work with as president. I think the problem is the expectation that coalitions won’t be secret.

    But i don’t know, and my experiences have not been typical of the past several years, since my ticket was uncontested both times.

  9. carpenter Avatar

    Actually, the problem must be numerical: if everyone who wanted to be president could be, that’d be fine. Also, if 7 times as many people who wanted to be president could be, that’d also be fine, since there would be no shame in losing.

    But if there are about 4-5 people who want the office, then everyone who doesn’t get it feels like they came in fourth out of four, which leads to much more hurt feelings.

  10. kid_prufrock Avatar

    I wonder whether people are a little too afraid of someone’s feelings getting hurt in an open election. We’re all mature adults — or at least ought to try to be and ought to be treated as such — and, I’d think, could handle the disappointment of losing a race. Backroom deliberation and secret coalitions also hurt people who feel left out; I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re even worse. I’d rather lose in a fair contest than in the negotiation that preceded a rigged one. (This doesn’t mean, of course, that people should run as individuals, for reasons Jackie points out.)

    Moreover, I was actually a little shocked and disappointed my clueless frosh year when I went to meeting expecting to have my say in the future of SWIL but actually just voting for a bunch of dumb joke candidates. Since then I always sort of wished the selection process were more democratic.

  11. uncleamos Avatar

    The problem isn’t that “secret” coalitions are formed. The problem is that ONE secret coalition is formed, making the election rigged. At that point, we ought to just have the presidents appoint the next presidents, since they have been anyway these last few years.

  12. uncleamos Avatar

    I say fuck ’em. I’ve run for office on the debate team, oh three times and never won, thank God.

    We don’t need anyone who’s both so stupid as to want that kind of responsibility and such a self-centered ass as to be bitchy about not getting it.

  13. ccommack Avatar

    Know this, oh ye chattering classes (and this goes to all three of you): you are far removed from the current situation in time and space. Your speculations are unhelpful, and on behalf of those involved, I ask you to please refrain, at least in public fora.

    I expect things will sort themselves out soon enough, but it will be sorted out by current students. The least you could do is display some sort of minimal trust in their ability to do what is best for themselves.

  14. uncleamos Avatar

    Oh, please. They’re just comparing notes on the past, and mentioning what they think has been a problem and what hasn’t.

    Assuming that we’re all mature adults here, it can only help.

  15. ccommack Avatar

    Which might be helpful, if there were true parallels from the current situation to those of previous years (or rather, to their interpretations of the events of those years; the periods in question have one of the greatest Rashomon effects I’ve ever encountered.) However, every situation is unique, with different personalities which should not be treated so cavalierly as you suggest.

  16. uncleamos Avatar

    Right, but they’re not treating people cavalierly. They’re exchanging information.

  17. ccommack Avatar

    /me puts on Loremaster hat. It is pointy.

    I would characterize the formation of presidential tickets in the past several years as a consensus process: the set of active and eligible nonmembers interested in the job get together and come to an agreement among themselves as to who will run together. Since we’re us, of course, we then use the excuse to carry out many silly traditions, slapping a democratic veneer along the way (and providing a check against actual oligarchy).

    The crises that have happened recently can all be pinned on failure of communication in the consensus-building process. In the two recent severe crises (1996 and 2001), this led to the formation of competing tickets and, in 1996, to a rather divisive vote.

    The relative merits of this system are, of course, debatable, like any constitutional system. But it has seemed to work well when it is properly done.

    /me removes Loremaster hat, looks around, dumps it on ‘s head, then runs away very quickly.

  18. wayman Avatar

    Then all I will say is that Joel and I read this last night and just kinda rolled our eyes and said “Some things never change…”.

  19. ccommack Avatar

    Addendum: I should clarify that I don’t actually think that this system is best, I just think that it’s not nearly as bad as teh 3vil everyone has been saying it is.

  20. wayman Avatar

    Acknowledging that the presidency is a handed-down appointment works very well for most Bryn Mawr organizations, including Doublestar and Scottish Dancing. I agree that it’s far preferable to just have things done like that than to have what are essentially intended to be “Soviet elections”, where your only real choice is to support the one true candidate or else vote goat and get yelled at when the goat accidentally wins (1995).

  21. crystalpyramid Avatar

    I quite agree with your sentiments freshman year. It’s part of why I didn’t figure out why , , and deserved to be SWILpresident. (No offense to those mentioned intended, but nobody told the frosh why the chosen ones were running.) One does expect democracy when one hears the word “election.”

    The problem, of course, is that there don’t exist multiple viable tickets. At any given time, the presidents, plus 1-3 other people in the sophomore (and occasionally the freshman) class seem to be running SWIL. Any ticket that is not primarily composed of those who are actually doing the work makes no sense. If there are only 2-5 who are actually doing the work, and everyone else is enjoying the fruits of their labor, it is impossible to come up with multiple viable tickets anyway. It would be possible to have a real election with a couple of tickets of people who just wanted the job but didn’t have a chance, but it seems like adding other tickets would just allow them to get their feelings hurt, while the ticket chosen by the previous presidents would still win.

    On the other hand, maybe allowing the people who don’t have a chance to run seriously might convince them that they don’t deserve the presidency, in addition to adding the illusion of democracy.

    On a third, invisible hand, that is not the current problem. The current problem is dissatisfaction with the ticket that contains the candidates who, whether or not they’re elected, will run SWIL.

  22. carnap Avatar

    I doubt the selection process can effectively be made much more democratic. There are generally no issues, so, like a high school race for class president, it’s basically a popularity contest.

  23. carnap Avatar

    What’s so bad about the Soviet elections? I always found them amusing, they’re traditional, and as long as no one takes them too seriously they work fine.

  24. crystalpyramid Avatar

    We weren’t deliberately keeping it a secret. We just talked about it earlier than we ought to have. I was surprised when people were surprised to discover who was planning on running. And that they were surprised to discover that I wasn’t a two-term president yet, and was therefore still eligible, as was Mai.

  25. carnap Avatar

    There were competing tickets in ’01? afair, , , Callicles the Moose, and I were elected in the usual faux election, but only after a lot of jockeying for power and even more hurt feelings, including mine.

  26. kid_prufrock Avatar

    Normally I’d think that what Chris said would be enough, but you seem generally miffed, so: I’m not trying to sort anything out or treat anyone in any particular way. I don’t know what’s going on now and I don’t really care. I’m just musing about the past, a subject about which I’m merely curious.

  27. wayman Avatar

    Basically, they’re all fun and games until someone loses an eye, and more years than not, someone loses an eye. The failure point varies year-to-year, often being in coaltion-building, sometimes in a schism between multiple viable candidates, and once because a lot of people voted goat as an intentional vote of no confidence which really hurt the candidates. If Soviet elections are going to be the format, the problem is that every year some people do take them too seriously because their expectations are that these aren’t Soviet elections.

  28. crystalpyramid Avatar

    The impression I got was that there were various proposed tickets, but most of them were bludgeoned into submission (or something, I’m not so clear on that part) before the actual nominations/election. Is this incorrect?

  29. kid_prufrock Avatar

    Hmm. I should note that suppose I can see how might be concerned; you certainly shouldn’t take general expressions of how I felt about my experience as anything like opinions as to what you ought to do.

    I suppose, really, the best one can say, here, is “good luck.”

  30. crystalpyramid Avatar

    Thanks. *hugs*

    Yeah, the reason your comments are relevant is that non-trivial numbers of people are complaining about the non-democracy of the system, whereas I suspect that usually the presidents just feel vaguely guilty about it, but nobody really complains to them about it.

  31. kid_prufrock Avatar

    (And, also, add vague expressions of optimism and confidence? Smiling emoticons? Thumbs-up?)

  32. ccommack Avatar

    (The November 2001 Rashomon effect strikes again!)

    After many attempts to assemble a viable, eligible ticket, certain parties seized on a pledge Matt Fowles and I made to run if no consensus candidates could be fielded, together with the only person who everyone agreed was going to get the job whether he wanted it or not, . Matt and I turned out to be the last candidates to withdraw our names from consideration at the Big Ugly Meeting of People in a Room, when it became clear that you four would indeed be able to line up consensus (or what consensus there was to be had) behind you.

    Sorry to dredge up bad memories; it wasn’t a particularly fun time for me, either. But it is the only time I know of in which an alternative slate was seriously proposed, to be withdrawn before nominations.

  33. carnap Avatar

    Basically, the issue was that there was brewing hostility between a group of really hardcore swillies, generally ’03’s and ’02’s, that included e.g. me (“SWIL 1”) and many less hardcore types who were generally in the class of ’04 (“SWIL 2”), but who wanted in and wanted to be able to put their stamp on the organization to make it more welcoming for people like them, since we in SWIL 1 hadn’t done a very good job of being fun and welcoming. There were also various moderates who couldn’t figure out the reasons for the hostility.

    There were certain people who members of the other side very strongly didn’t want to be president and talked about leaving SWIL if they were elected. I was one of the people who talked about leaving, because at the time I thought a SWIL 2 victory would be a statement that People Like Me were no longer welcome in SWIL.

    Eventually Amy’ Marinello ’02 dragged everyone who had expressed interest in the job into a room. There were hostilities, but also reconciliations, and we dragged together a compromise ticket consisting of , and Matt Fowles ’04, which was rather odd since not all of them wanted to be president.

    After all this, Ross Messing ’04, who was part of SWIL 2, decided for some reason (I’m still unclear on the details) that all of this was stupid and SWIL 1 should be in charge since we had been heavily involved with the organization for ages, or at least that was the story he gave me. (I think he gave other people different stories regarding his reasons.) The result was that I got elected along with , , and Callicles the Moose, who did all the real work.

    In retrospect, there had to have been a better way of handling the incident, but I don’t know what.

  34. ccommack Avatar

    Oops, yeah. My chronology is off, and yours is right. Thanks. (The Rashomon effect strikes *me*!)

  35. wayman Avatar

    As someone who prefers the “benevolent dictators handing down the mantle every year or two” system to the “it’s really a Soviet election, but we’ll pretend it’s a real election” system, I wish you best of luck both in your candidacy and in getting SWIL to accept it as the way things should be. *hugs*

  36. sildra Avatar

    I’m going to second what everyone else said and point out that I have said nothing about the current situation (except to comment that whatever it is can’t possibly be as bad as sophomore year). None of us have made any claims to be talking about the current situation, nor trying to help it, nor trying to get involved in any way.

  37. wayman Avatar

    I should really watch Rashomon someday (and not just so I can understand SWIL politics better!). And the DVD’s been sitting on my shelf for ten months. Bad me, no biscuit.

  38. ccommack Avatar

    Well, this is true, and I apologize for being a bit too harsh, but there is one item which I dispute: that coalitions are secret. It has this awful property of being not completely true and not obviously false, but since all y’all ran with the concept without so much as a hint of objection, it distressed many people, including myself, who are trying to make sure that consensus is reached with as few ruffled feathers as possible this year.

  39. Nicolas Ward Avatar

    The BUMPeR. Gotta watch out for those ;o).

  40. ccommack Avatar

    Ayuh. That meeting was proof that the people who have input to the process should not be limited to the 10 or so people who have been mentioned for the job (or alreaady have it.)

  41. uncleamos Avatar

    “The current problem is dissatisfaction with the ticket that contains the candidates who, whether or not they’re elected, will run SWIL.”

    Well there you have it, and I have no idea of the details or people involved. But it sounds like whoever is dissatisfied has no business being so.

  42. uncleamos Avatar

    Wow. I knew this was Mai’s first term, but I had forgotten it was yours. It’s because JC was so worthless.

    (If he’s reading this, he knows it’s all in good fun. Do the rest of you?)

  43. Nicolas Ward Avatar

    Obviously, I have no knowledge of the current situation. I’m just the ghost of SWIL Elections Past…

    I think that there’s a general tip-of-the-hat towards seniority. It was ‘s last chance to be a president. He was one of the few members of ’04 still significantly active in SWIL after the mess in ’01, and he wanted to be president.

    and I were at the time the two most involved members of ’05, and the new batch of ’06 was just beginning to come to events regularly. I believe that this is when many members of ’03 were worried (and understandably so) that they were watching SWIL’s demise in progress.

    What did we learn from our presidency? It’s bad to have a coalition consisting entirely of engineers and seniors working on theses, in terms of time commitments. I know that taking three laboratory engineering courses in the Fall of ’03 sucked away nearly all of my time. On top of that, we had low membership and few members working hard to organize things. Everything fell on the co-presidents, and we dropped almost all of it.

    On top of that, I don’t think it’s good to elect people who are not in SWIL the social group, which is probably the number one reason why I was not a good candidate. There is also a very specific subset of SWIL activities that I am interested in, so I found it hard to get motivated about organizing activities I was personally less invested in.

    This is an argument for a balanced coalition of presidents, in terms of interests. It is also an argument for individuals being responsible for the planning of most events, as we are now doing with Saturday Night SWIL. Finally, the distinction between SWIL the social group and SWIL the campus organization has been blurring a lot more over the last two years. Leadership of the latter seems to be strengthened by membership of the former.

    As much as I’m not a fan of the coalition forming process, the number one issue is the immature whispering-behind-people’s-back politics that was ranting about in his last post about this. I realize that a lot of the secrecy is motivated by a desire to protect the feelings of others. I think that this is misguided, in the sense that it’s far worse to hear what negative things people are saying about you third and fourth hand than it is to have them said to your face.

    We’ve worked through these issues in the past. We can again, and hopefully we will do so with a minimum of offense.

  44. sildra Avatar

    Well, considering there was an air of secrecy last year, which I, among others, made public my objections to at the time, it seemed generally reasonable to trust Nick’s assessment that it was true again this year.

  45. carnap Avatar

    The problem was that the ten or so people in the room where the same ten or so people who really cared about the outcome.

  46. indecisionwins Avatar

    The problem with that is that debaters in general don’t mind hurting other people’s feelings and don’t mind getting their feelings hurt. SWILlies, on the other hand, do care, for the most part. So you really can’t say “fuck ’em” in SWIL as easily as you can in debate.

    And I would say that acknowledging that fact is a very good thing, although you would probably disagree…

  47. rose_garden Avatar


    Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 “Rashomon” is the best-known Japanese film in the world, and well-educated people are now generally expected to know that the term “the Rashomon effect” refers to the notion that participants in an event are likely to give contradictory accounts of what transpired.

  48. crystalpyramid Avatar

    There was?
    So how are we supposed to not generate an air of secrecy, if there’s one even when we don’t mean to generate one? Maybe it’s all the cloaks and daggers.

  49. crystalpyramid Avatar

    So you really can’t say “fuck ’em” in SWIL as easily as you can in debate.

    Well, you can. But then you have to write about the slash pairing.

Nurd Up!