This year’s student government elections probably won’t be rocked by the kind of scandal and criminal behavior that plagued last year’s race. That’s good for everyone. But last year, 20 percent of the student body voted in the student government elections, largely because a viable third (um, second) party, the Michigan Progressive Party, posed a real challenge to the long-dominant mainstay. Unfortunately, most of the competition has dissipated, leaving only the Michigan Action Party, the Defend Affirmative Action Party and a handful of independents.
Once again, students find that the election is a foregone conclusion and there is nothing for voters to get excited about. Regardless of these circumstances, the student body must turn out and vote. Low voter turnout would be tantamount to the student body accepting the MSA elections process and the broken system it has become.
Part of the blame for MSA’s lackluster elections has to be placed on voters. As frustrating and confusing as the system may be, students should take time to research the issues that matter most to them and demand that candidates and parties address those issues. And after the election, when many candidates drop their party affiliations and leave the work to be done by individuals, students must remain vigilant and make sure the party’s campaign promises are kept.
But the problem is larger than just student apathy. Parties should not exist solely for the sake of electing their representatives. The student body, or at least the 20 percent that vote, entrusts representatives to tackle the issues that matter most. Parties like the Michigan Action Party that claim to transcend ideology only give students a reason not to care. If MSA hopes to become an important part of student life, there must be more candidates and parties that reflect the student body by taking diverse stances on the issues. It is the job of the winners of this year’s election to make sure that next year’s race is more contested.
In the spirit of providing students with definitive parties and real choices, third parties need to be stronger and more in tune with students as well. The Defend Affirmative Action Party, although it claims a broad platform, talks only about promoting diversity at the University. That’s a worthy goal but there is nothing DAAP can do about it because it is a perennial non-contender. Not only does DAAP lack the experience to work effectively with other parties in MSA, its narrow focus comes at the expense of other important student issues. The party’s fundamental shortcomings leave students no viable alternative in elections, which weakens MSA.
MSA is a body designed to represent student interests. Students should voice their concerns by voting and demanding accountability. We should not vote blindly for any party but should take the time to make an informed decision. For example, while MAP has been widely endorsed, its slate also includes a candidate implicated last year in a denial of service attack on a competing party’s website. You’ll want to know all about things like that before voting.
The system may be broken, but it will be altogether defunct without broad participation from the student body and a commitment from the winners to increase competition.