Monday, April 11, 2005

Failure of Procedural Democracy

The UW's Daily reports that Affordable Tuition Now! (ATN!) has thousands missing from its checking account, and that it may be as much as $50,000! Every penny going to that organization comes from student donations, $2 a pop, collected over many years. Its a sizable chuck of change to be just missing, and there are allegations of outright theft.

But what does this have to do with procedural democracy and its failure thereof?

Last year ATN! had to go through the renewal process to be listed on StarMan (yeah, its not StarMan anymore... but I still think of the man who would talk to me on registration day). Only two groups are listed, so only two have to go through renewal. WashPIRG is currently going through its renewal process (its a four year deal). WashPIRG goes through the direct democracy process, gathering signatures to be placed on the ballot and then facing a vote of the student body. ATN! went the indirect way, petitioning the ASUW Board of Directors to put it right on the ballot without any effort. But at least ATN! has to go through the student body vote, right? Well sure, but when those of us concerned about ATN! asked questions to help inform the voters, we were told that only members of ATN! could know such things like "how much money they have?", "what they are spending it on?", "what their future goals are?".

Come election day, a few of us put together a catchy anti-ATN! statement and tried out best to kill ATN! then and there, but it was difficult without hard facts. In the end ATN! squeaked by with a 32 vote majority, out of nearly 5,000 votes! And yet, it would seem now that the majority got in wrong. ATN! was mismanaging the money, as had been asserted earlier, but the voter apparently put more stock in a great name like Affordable Tuition Now! than the ramblings of our anti-ATN! statement.

Which is why I say the ATN! renewal is a failure of procedural democracy. Putting something up for a popular vote does not absolve anyone of their sins. The only way we can trust voting is if the voters are properly informed and have all the facts available. An educated populous with diverse media sources is essential to having democracy actually mean something.

Far too many student government types (this includes ALL of the advisors) believe that everything is solved by an election... "just ask the students, they tell us." I think the ATN! incident teaches us a valuable lesson that elections are not infallible and that factual disclosure is the best way to ensuring good policy making.

1 comment:

srcastic said...

I agree that an election alone does not make something right. Then again, I am not a fan of direct democracy.

Hindsight of course makes us think about things differently. I now wish, as one of the Board members at the time, that I had asked for an independant audit. It seems that both WashPIRG and ATN, and any other group that gets money through the Star system should always be subject to an audit.