Unless you religiously read sidewalk chalkings, you probably aren’t aware that Michigan Student Assembly elections are today and tomorrow. The reason you may not be aware of the elections is that they don’t matter all that much. Few students will vote, and the Michigan Action Party, because it’s the only serious party running, will inevitably sweep the races and continue its one-party rule. But as long as MSA remains dominated by one serious party, students have no way to hold it accountable for its unfulfilled promises so it will get little done. What students need is an MSA election that isn’t an uncontested farce.
In this year’s election, if you wish to call it that, roughly 40 candidates will vie for 30 open MSA seats. More than half of these candidates will be from MAP, and as usual, the party’s members are promising sweeping generic improvements like increasing wireless Internet in residence halls and providing late-night University transportation. The Defend Affirmative Action Party is also throwing in its sacrificial candidates with their single-issue focus. And a handful of unassuming, but somewhat impressive, independent candidates are running, too. But neither DAAP nor the independents stand much of a chance against MAP’s election machine.
As usual, no one is expecting voter turnout to be particularly groundbreaking. Though MSA President Sabrina Shingwani and Vice President Arvind Sohoni promised last semester that they would work to increase voter turnout in elections and overall interest in MSA, those efforts have all but died. Early plans to advertise MSA elections on the backgrounds of University computers were abandoned, and candidates have returned to their usual chalking and flyering. That’s a shame, because, as Shingwani admits, higher voter turnout would make the assembly more productive and more powerful.
And failing to get students to vote is hardly MSA’s only shortcoming. The assembly just doesn’t have a very good record of big accomplishments to grab students’ attention. The online housing forum, much like MSA’s online course advice tool, offers little. MSA’s struggle with the city to improve off-campus lighting is ongoing, as it has been on and off for the past few years. The assembly hasn’t been very vocal on major policy issues like tuition, health care and student input. And the MSA website — which presidential candidates have been promising to update for years — is still glaringly bare. When these disappointments are considered alongside the modest successes (bringing T. Boone Pickens to campus, constructing a giant ‘M’ in the student section of the Big House), MSA seems to have achieved little.
The only reason that MAP — and MSA as a whole — can get away with such a poor performance is that they have no serious opposition. In a single-party system, students feel like their votes don’t matter. Once elected, student representatives can then sidestep campaign promises. And ultimately, a single-party system makes accountability a myth.
The fact that MSA representatives aren’t fulfilling their campaign promises should be a great reason for students to go vote. Yet, they still don’t, which means some of the onus of responsibility is on them. What we’re left with is an election no one cares much about and one that doesn’t matter much. Students should get involved and press for better choices in the election and demand better representation. We should expect something more from this body and our student government.