When is a “friend” really a friend? Few people thought this year’s Yale College Council elections would enter such deep territory, but a series of new election rules, coupled with the ubiquity of thefacebook.com, has made what counts as genuine friendship one of the key questions of the campaigns so far. And in trying to resolve this dilemma, all the YCC has done is prove how silly its own regulations have become.

After all, there is a reason the Election Commission has its hands full investigating near-daily complaints about rule violations: The YCC campaign has started, but nobody is actually allowed to campaign. Candidates are forbidden to speak publicly about their platforms (even to those they have “friended” on thefacebook.com) and risk penalties if an outside group endorses them too early. The result: Yale students have been left in the dark about what those seeking to serve as their chief representatives actually want to do — and we are unlikely to learn much more until 48 hours before voting begins.

A longer campaign has its drawbacks — more fliers to clean up from bulletin boards, more bombardment of e-mail inboxes from candidates and their friends, the possibility of a more contentious campaign. But a longer campaign also offers a better chance for students to evaluate candidates and hear a more extensive back-and-forth about issues that affect student life. By contrast, the current format — where votes are most likely to be determined by the briefest of first impressions or the urging of a friend of a friend — encourages elections to devolve into personality contests, with anything substantive thrown to the wayside.

YCC President Andrew Cedar ’06 and his fellow officers have succeeded in focusing much of their tenure on issues concerning student policy, from financial aid to dining hall restrictions to the proposed activities fee. But the reality is that if we look back to a year ago, none of these issues earned much attention during last April’s YCC elections, even though some were mentioned in the current officers’ campaigns. Especially with the creation two years ago of the Yale Student Activities Committee, the YCC has positioned itself to be more than a high school student government, but its campaigns are so restricted that they can do little to reflect that shift.

This is especially unfortunate because there is no shortage of issues to discuss. The YCC was a little late in making a sustained call for financial aid reform, but after the council’s work in recent months, new officers have the chance to take the lead in suggesting the next move. As Yale implements the academic review and revamps buildings like the Cross Campus Library, candidates have an obligation to articulate what they will say to the Yale administration about the University’s plans. And on other issues like faculty diversity, Yale’s alcohol regulations or academic advising — not to mention dining policies and the student activities fee — elected student leaders can and should take a stand. But we also deserve the opportunity to know what those stands are before casting our ballots.

The candidates for YCC are vying for a chance to serve as a student voice on these issues and others. It is past time, then, that we began hearing what they want to say.