Fourteen percent should never sound impressive when it comes to voter turnout. But when figures for the last Michigan Student Assembly election were released, 14 percent seemed pretty good — because it was the highest turnout the elections had seen in years. Yet, recent disclosure that Rackham Rep. Hamdan Yousuf voted for himself more than once in the elections has called into question MSA elections, its rules and the quality of the online voting system it employs. To validate the democratic system, MSA must fix the flaws with the online voting system and take action to prove to students that voting matters. And students must remember that they have a civic duty to vote.
In the MSA elections held in March, Yousuf received 28 weighted votes all of which were cast by him. He was able to vote for himself more than once because the online voting system counted different spellings of Yousuf’s name in write-in boxes as separate votes. According to an Apr. 15 Daily report, Michael Benson, outgoing chair of MSA’s Rules and Elections Committee, considers this flaw in the system “undemocratic” and believes that issues with the voting system being made public would be problematic for the Assembly.
Yousuf seems to have voted for himself more than once in an effort to draw attention to the inconsistencies in the MSA voting system and election rules. But good intentions don’t justify unethical behavior. And even though Yousuf’s election was uncontested — meaning no other candidate was harmed by his actions — casting multiple votes for oneself is an affront to the validity of a democratic election.
There are other ways Yousuf could have gone about addressing what he called in a phone interview with the Daily “gray areas” in the All-Campus Constitution’s rules on elections. He could have contacted Benson before the election with his concerns, worked with other representatives to encourage updates to the system or made the problem public — without committing an act that would amount to fraud in any other election.
Though Yousuf’s methods weren’t the best way to show concern about MSA’s election rules, he has revealed a flaw in the election system. MSA election rules are somewhat ambiguous and confusing, but it’s clear that no one should be able to vote for the same candidate more than once — that’s simply undemocratic. And now that MSA is aware of the defect, it has a responsibility to fix the problem. MSA should implement a system in which each ballot is reviewed to ensure it doesn’t contain multiple votes for a single candidate. But to protect voters’ privacy, ballots should remain anonymous during the review process. This would increase the amount of time required to count votes, but time is a small price to pay to ensure that elections are fair.
But ultimately, the biggest problem is students’ lack of interest in MSA. Yousuf ran uncontested in the election. And according to Benson, graduate students usually only cast 500 votes during elections. Graduate turnout is especially low, but student turnout to vote for elections is always uninspiring. This year’s 14-percent overall turnout was an increase from last year’s 9-percent. MSA clearly doesn’t have the student body’s support. Graduate students, who make up 40 percent of the student population on campus, believe they aren’t given enough representation in the Assembly, according to the Daily report. Most students’ perception of MSA is overwhelmed by scandal after scandal and few tangible results. MSA must show successful results that impact students’ everyday life to spark the interest of the student body and increase voter turnout.
But interest is a two-way street. Students should take responsibility if they want MSA to change. Students don’t have the right to criticize MSA if they don’t vote. They must take the time to elect capable leaders that will work to better students’ lives. Students must increase their interest in MSA if they want to see a change in the way MSA operates.
Yousuf’s actions, though unethical, have exposed a flaw in MSA’s voting system that needs to be addressed. MSA must work toward increasing student participation by showing students that it is relevant. But for their part, students should stand by their responsibility to vote in order to hold their student government accountable for its actions.