Working on campus elections

A decrease in this year’s vote tally is, while plainly undesirable, also hardly surprising.

I would like to thank the Daily editorial board for their interest in the all-campus elections. Frequent and considered critique of public organizations (in this case, student groups) is a blessing we enjoy as students and fulfills a valuable role conveying potential concerns to the student groups and the student constituencies they strive to serve. In that vein, I hope to offer some satisfactory explanations to allay the unease expressed in the Friday editorial “Censoring students with the MSA vote,” and perhaps suggest some agreeable future action.

The editorial board appeared troubled by three principal attributes of the election process: low voter turnout, online voting errors and the x.500 write-in requirement. I will work to address each of these concerns and then discuss options for future elections (the elections commission provides elections for many student organizations, but I will focus on the April 11 and 12 elections that included MSA).

In this year’s elections, 2,840 students (10.5 percent) voted in the MSA presidential elections. This vote tally, fewer than last year (3,839) and the previous year (4,635), represents a serious concern for MSA and the elections commission. Considerable work must be expended in future elections to increase the unmistakably low voter turnout. But let’s also put this in perspective: This year there were two presidential candidates, last year there were five, and the year before, seven. Max Page and Monica Heth received more votes this year than any MSA presidential ticket of the past three elections and, therefore, arguably represent a greater portion of the undergraduate student body.

Additionally, in past years the vote tally has reflected the dedicated campaigning efforts of a broad array of presidential candidates. These campaigns boost voter turnout – the four unelected candidates last year received an average of 565 votes each. With fewer than half as many candidates, a decrease in this year’s vote tally is, while plainly undesirable, also hardly surprising.

The vast preponderance of reported online voting complaints received by the commission effectively were resolved to the satisfaction of the student. Clearly the steps necessary to report a complaint may dissuade many students; however, it was noted (and considered representative of voting difficulties) that most of the complaints stemmed from voter ineligibility. Only currently registered students (as listed by the Office of the Registrar) are eligible to vote for student offices (others receive a “There are no elections at this time” message). To address ineligibility as well as other voting troubles, the elections commission is exploring the possibility of incorporating user-specific error messages into next year’s election site.

The editorial board’s concern with the requirement for x.500 numbers is valid: Throwing “hurdles” in front of voters certainly seems a poor way to encourage voter turnout. But ask yourself, how many John Andersons are there at this University? There are 14. If elections receive fewer candidate filings than available positions, the elections commission relies heavily upon write-ins; without x.500 numbers, it is impossible to distinguish between one Anderson and the other. If there is some other way to differentiate between individuals of the same name without throwing “hurdles,” please contact the elections commission – we gladly will consider it.

With regard to protest votes, the elections commission will be including an option to abstain in next year’s elections. Abstention functions as a protest vote (or a not-enough-information vote) in voting operations across the globe, and the elections commission sincerely hopes this will satisfy the editorial board and others of students’ ability to voice disapproval.

Do the elections undermine the credibility of MSA? I sincerely hope not – MSA is the only officially recognized independent voice of the undergraduate student body. To quote the editorial board from April 11th’s “Beyond ineffectual student government,” “It may be easy to crack jokes about MSA now, but when one realizes who benefits from the deterioration of MSA, things aren’t so funny.”

Were the elections ideal? No. Voter turnout was poor, the voting process less than perfect and submarine sandwiches seem to be many students’ notion of the ultimate motivation to vote.

How can this be improved? Concerning the online voting process and ballot, the elections commission hoped to improve write-in accuracy and legitimacy by requiring x.500 numbers and will implement an abstention option for next year’s elections. Concerning voter turnout and student apathy, convincing students of the importance and gravity of MSA’s elections (and elections in general) is not something that can be handled by the elections commission alone. Mounting apathy is a developing and alarming crisis that MSA, the Daily, the elections commission and many other student groups must fight together. The future of this University (and this nation) revolves on civic engagement. If we can, together, raise awareness of students’ roles as influential stakeholders in that future, perhaps we can roll back the tide of apathy.

The elections commission thanks the editorial board for its remarks and invites all students (or just anyone, generally) to comment on their experience with the elections and/or their thoughts for improvement.

Eric Ling is an All Campus Elections Commission chairman. Please send comments to [email protected]