Voter apathy is detrimental to function of the Union
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 19:08
Elections are central to the proper functioning of a democratic government. They signal to candidates the policies that voters support, and convey messages of voter approval. Student representation at the Board of Trustees’ tuition discussions and reforms to the dining system were among the issues candidates debated in last years’ Student Union election. Although participating voters made their decisions and gave their support to their preferred candidates, the final ballots could hardly reflect the opinions of Brandeis students overall.
Last April, the majority of eligible voters did not participate in the Student Union’s spring elections. This lack of participation is truly detrimental to the Union’s function. According to Student Union polling data from last April, less than 50 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections. The presidential election saw only about 33 percent of undergraduates voting, with our new president, Todd Kirkland ’13, securing only 296 from a possibility of about 3,500 votes.
Most of the senatorial elections received even lower results. Student Union statistics indicate that the Class of 2013 senatorial election only had 18 percent voter participation, compared to elections for Class of 2014 senators with 26.12 percent and Class of 2015 senators with 41.68 percent. The 2015 senatorial election received the highest turnout in both the spring and fall elections—42.8 percent last fall.
When more than two-thirds of eligible voters do not participate, the Union acts just for the minority who bothered to vote. It cannot tailor its work to the needs of the general student body, and it will not operate at its maximum potential to serve Brandeis students.
While canvassing through North and Massell Quads as a candidate for class senator, the greatest problem I found was a lack of knowledge about the Union among students. Therefore, it is not surprising that many students did not vote, since it is difficult to maintain interest in a subject they barely understand.
Resolving voter unawareness is central to boosting turnout. Much of this effort needs to come from the Union officers. Officers must actively engage students to educate them about the Union and go beyond office hours and emails. Periodic face-to-face interaction with students would greatly increase understanding and motivation. It demonstrates that the officer cares about his constituents, and would truly like their votes. When students are more informed about the process, they are more likely to participate in it.
The election’s timing can impact turnouts too. The Union hosted the last elections towards the end of April, when many students started preparing for their final exams and projects. With a greater need to focus on their academics, voting became a second or even third priority for them.
Campaign periods at Brandeis should be extended for another week to give candidates more opportunities to meet with voters. Spring elections could also be moved to early April, allowing busy, but nevertheless interested, students to vote without the burden of final exams.
Above all, however, students have to start caring about the elections. Even the best solutions will stall if students continue to persist in their apathy. As Brandeis citizens, we should leave the University in a better state than we came to it. This includes participating in a process that greatly influences undergraduate life. With each year, voter participation should increase rather than decrease.
I am sure that many students are unhappy that the Union does not respond to their interests.
However, by not voting, you will have only cemented your fate by not being represented or heard at all by the school.
To all students, returning and new, we have limited time to improve our school as undergraduates. If we want student life to reach its full potential, we must start at the student government level, and we start by casting our ballots on Election Day.