This year, students returning to campus after Thanksgiving break might have been surprised to discover that the Michigan Student Assembly was holding its fall election — if they noticed at all, that is. According to the Daily, only 3,565 out of 39,671 students voted. That’s a shame, because after a semester of contentious MSA issues that affect the lives of students, the campus population should have felt compelled to vote. Responsibility is twofold — MSA must do more to remind students of the election and encourage participation, and students must demonstrate to the University administration that they care about the way this campus is governed by holding the assembly accountable in elections.
The MSA Compiled Code sets timetables for the elections, which are held each fall and each winter semester. Due to a conflict between these timetables and MSA’s delayed selection of an election director, the assembly was forced to push back the election to the day after Thanksgiving break. In addition, MSA was unable to get a link to the online voting site placed on the desktops of all campus computers as it had planned. The result was an election that garnered roughly 9 percent student turnout — a slight drop from last fall’s 9.6 percent — despite an expectation of higher turnout from MSA leadership.
The day after Thanksgiving break was certainly a less-than-ideal time to hold the election, resulting in decreased last-minute campaigning on the Diag that typically serves to remind students to vote. Though it’s true that MSA was in a bind over when to hold the election, the assembly should make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future by picking an election director earlier, if necessary. And the fact that the voting links on campus computers never materialized doesn’t exactly speak well for voter outreach efforts, either.
That said, students shouldn’t be waiting for flashing neon lights that give them step-by-step instructions on how and when to vote. Students should feel a responsibility to express their opinions of MSA’s actions and whether or not they approve of its members and leadership. MSA can hardly be expected to listen to students’ needs or fight for students’ interests when it is only accountable to 9 percent of campus. And MSA will be more empowered to stand up to the administration if they have student votes to back them up.
After all, this semester was an important one for the assembly, which dealt with several issues directly relevant to students. The revelation that for years MSA has been appointing students to the Department of Public Safety Oversight Committee rather than holding campus-wide elections as required by state law is something students should be speaking up about. This committee is intended to be students’ strongest check on the University police system, and its mismanagement over the last decade should be getting students’ attention. And the fact that the University administration looked the other way with regard to this committee only strengthens the need for students to vote.
That’s not to say that students only have reasons to be upset with members of the assembly. Their support of state Sen. Liz Brater’s (D-Ann Arbor) Good Samaritan bill — which would protect students from getting minors in possession in instances where they need to call for help on behalf of friends who were drinking — was instrumental in assuring the bill’s passage.
The point is that good or bad, MSA is making decisions that effect students and ones should care about. But the assembly won’t have a reason for its decision to reflect campus’s sentiments until students vote in MSA elections in considerably larger numbers.