What all-campus elections?

Perhaps students weren’t interested in the MSA presidential election because the candidates’ platforms were rather dull.

by Holly Lahd

Last week the Minnesota Student Association elections were held. You weren’t aware? Well, you’re not alone – more than 90 percent of undergraduates apparently weren’t either. Poor voter turnout has plagued student government for years, and not only at the University. However, there were some serious mistakes made throughout the course of this year’s elections, and they must be changed before another student government election happens.

Before any changes can be made, it’s important to identify general characteristics of student government elections that make low turnout a reality. Most undergraduate students have a “four years and out” mentality, which is supported by the administration and the “four-year plan” guarantee to graduate in four years. This emphasis on four years does not necessarily support getting involved in student government. A large campus like ours makes the job of spreading the word about a campaign platform difficult. Perhaps voter turnout would be different in a small, rural college; but here in Minneapolis-St. Paul, students have a lot of distractions in a vibrant metro area.

Though there are constraints to student voter turnout and participation, special issues emerged in this year’s election that resulted in another abysmal voter turnout of 6 percent. I doubt that the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly saw much higher turnout.

The All-Campus Elections Commission had more than its usual fare of technical difficulties, which included a two-hour site shutdown on Monday of the elections. When I tried to vote, the MSA presidential and at-large representatives appeared, but the candidates for MPIRG’s local board did not. I did manage to vote for those additional positions later after attempting again to vote, but this technical stumble is just one of many for the ACEC.

Something also has to be said about this year’s coverage of the campaigns and election in this newspaper. While The Minnesota Daily does a great job at covering a variety of campus issues, I feel the opinion page and news section were both noticeably silent on the coverage of the elections. Last year, the Daily did in-depth

interviews with both presidential and vice-Presidential candidates in the race; this year such interviews were notably missing. Instead, the paper included articles with inspiring headlines such as “Elections Start, Sputter” and “Candidates Want Change, Again”. If that doesn’t motivate you to vote, I don’t know what will.

Perhaps students weren’t interested in the MSA presidential election because the candidates’ platforms this year were rather dull. Except for the renegade campaign of Mike Griffin and Vince Patti, who wanted to stop the police party patrols in Dinkytown, the other candidates’ platforms included the usual mundane topics of reduced textbook costs, campus safety initiatives and more accessible teacher evaluations. Maybe these issues don’t rile people enough to take it to the polls. But then what is the student government’s job if not to fix the manageable and important problems of students? The attainable goals may not be as exciting as a head-to-head battle between MSA and the UMPD, but these goals are the ones that can be reached.

And then there are some things about the election that can’t be helped. The fact that both presidential candidates had the last name of Olson may have confused students whether this was a Scandinavian or University election.

So I have a couple of things to offer about the MSA elections 2008 for candidates, voters, and ACEC alike:

Tip #1: Future candidates might win by reaching out to historically underrepresented voters: St. Paul campus students. Too often the chalking, postering and general “spread the word” campaigns dismiss the St. Paul campus as too far away, too smelly, and “who actually has classes over there anyway?” Well, Bailey Hall houses more than 500 students. The dorm has the motto, “Bailey Hall. You don’t know what you’re missing!” Apparently candidates don’t, because if they did they would realize that because outreach is scarce on the St. Paul campus, it’s noticed when a student group or candidate tries. In St. Paul, a little effort goes a long way.

Tip #2: To help aid the president-elect in what students really care about, adding an electronic comment feature to the ballot where people could write in what they want to see MSA do would be instant feedback for the new MSA administration. This comment feature might be taken over by joke write-in candidates and perhaps some vulgarity, but its potential for instant feedback is something to consider.

All efforts to increase voter participation will lead to the ultimate goal of student government: a louder voice in campus governance issues that is a more effective, more unified voice to the Board of Regents.

In the University of Wisconsin system, students are involved in all immediate government issues of the campus through the shared governance program. This means that students are involved in setting tuition levels and other important issues at the University.

If we – the student body – want to move in the direction of shared governance and have a real voice at the decision table, we must first show more interest in student government elections. We must stop complaining about tuition raises if we don’t vote. We must stop the MSA bashing if we don’t vote. And ultimately, we need to stop taking the free food and voting without any idea of who the candidates are.

Holly Lahd welcomes comments at [email protected]