Michigan Student Assembly elections are upon us again. Just as in years past, the Diag is chalked to perfection, eager candidates are knocking on doors almost incessantly and posters bearing the faces of smiling University students are seen all over campus. Just when you thought the frenzy of elections had come to an end, it is time for MSA hopefuls to begin their campaign.
Unfortunately, I know a fair number of University students who are completely unaware of what MSA is and what they try to do for our campus. For this reason, I feel a brief history lesson is in order. According to its website, “The Michigan Student Assembly (MSA) is the central student government at the University of Michigan, representing students from every school and college.” Currently headed by seniors Jason Mironov and Jenny Nathan, this year’s MSA has brought the student body such things as a Sept. 11 conference, a visit from filmmaker Michael Moore and the new housing reviews website. Past parties have included the Blue Party, the Michigan Party, the ever-popular Students First party and the current frontrunner — Students 4 Michigan.
While many students do run independently, there seems to be a recent pattern of a one-party monopoly in the MSA elections. Last year, Students First took 18 of the 24 open MSA seats, including all nine seats available in LSA. The Defend Affirmative Action Party and independent candidates only received two seats each. Students 4 Michigan and DAAP are the only parties running in this year’s election, and considering DAAP is a single-issue party, it is likely that Students 4 Michigan will take the majority of the seats.
In a school with more than 35,000 students, I find it hard to believe that one party can encompass every person’s interests and agendas. Where are the other parties on this campus? Why is Students 4 Michigan running essentially uncontested? There is no reason for this monopoly — other than the fact that no other party has risen to challenge Students 4 Michigan.
Even Students 4 Michigan was formed relatively late in the election game, just three days before the Oct. 29 deadline. Had this handful of students not been motivated to establish themselves as a party at the last minute, candidates would have been forced to run independently. The party system of MSA elections was at risk of fading away if Students 4 Michigan had not come forward.
I know there is not a shortage of political enthusiasm on this campus. We all saw it this fall during the presidential election; the activism was so widespread it was inspiring just to walk through the Diag. Hundreds of students were out registering voters, throngs of people went to meetings and rallies and every third person was sporting a button naming their candidate of choice. This campus is not politically apathetic.
The irony is that students seem willing to come out in full force for the national cause, but not for their own university. Or perhaps MSA has not succeeded in its efforts to bring students to the polls — conveniently located online. Last year, a mere 5,139 students voted in the MSA elections out of the roughly 37,000 students that attend the University.
While the student body must take partial responsibility for this pitiful turnout, MSA needs a stable party system to motivate voters. There needs to be at least two parties with clear objectives and visions. Where are the conflicting opinions, decisive issues and hot topics that typically fuel high voter turnout during elections?
The frequency by which parties disband is also a factor that hinders MSA elections. A party cannot form a reputation if it disbands every few semesters. Students First lasted three years in MSA, but disbanded just as it was becoming a well-known name around campus. Students were just becoming familiar with the party’s bright orange shirts and reputable place in student government when the party decided to throw in the towel.
Due to the indiscriminate disbanding of Students First, student voters are now faced with a brand new party — and no alternative. Imagine if Democrats and Republicans constantly changed their name, logos and party platforms just to shake things up every few years. There would be no consistency, no reputation or building of trust, no issues specific to any one party. I have high hopes for Students 4 Michigan — I just hope it doesn’t choose to disband after one or two semesters in MSA.
MSA needs to work with the student body to improve this election process, or this pattern of a one-party elections and a low student voter turnout will continue. There should not be a shortage of students willing to run for MSA positions on this campus, or a lack of concrete, dependable parties. As I found out this fall, Michigan students are both willing activists and intelligent voters. In the spirit of our campus, this activism should persist during the upcoming MSA elections.
Dibo is a Music School sophomore and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.