The Michigan Student Assembly elections held last month yielded the highest student voter turnout in years with 5,488 ballots cast. But in those elections, in which student 14 percent of students voted, Rackham Rep. Hamdan Yousuf was the fourth most successful candidate among graduate students with 28 weighted votes — all of them his own.
Yousuf, who has been an MSA representative since 2008, is one of four graduate students that serve on the assembly. He said he believes that MSA has not performed its duty of representing graduate students, who make up about 40 percent of the University’s student population.
“It’s been an ongoing struggle for us,” said Yousuf. “(We) don’t see how MSA is relevant.”
Yousuf said the lack of graduate student involvement in MSA is due to the misconception that MSA is the “undergraduate playground,” adding that graduate student elections are “much less competitive” than the undergraduate ones.
Michael Benson, an MSA representative since 2007 and recently elected president of Rackham graduate school, said graduate students usually garner about 500 votes as a collective group. He added that individual graduate student candidates often only need a handful of votes to win while undergraduates running in contested elections usually get hundreds of votes in order to become MSA representatives.
Yousuf, who technically needed just one vote to win his uncontested election, said he wrote in his name on several online ballots, changing punctuation with each entry to generate additional votes through the faulty voting system.
The outgoing chair of MSA’s Rules and Elections Committee, Benson said the voting website’s flaw makes the assembly “undemocratic.” He added that issues with the system, if made public to voters, could be problematic for the assembly.
“If other people knew about that it could dilute the system,” Benson said. “This is an idiosyncrasy between the voting system and the MSA rules.”
Yousuf said graduate student underrepresentation has been an ongoing issue but was truly brought to his attention during the MSA elections.
Graduate students who currently serve on the assembly, Yousuf added, are looking to increase the visibility of graduate student issues on campus and the significance of the group as a part of the University community.
MSA President Chris Armstrong, who was elected in last month’s elections with a margin of more than 1,000 votes, wrote in an e-mail interview that he wants to make an effort to engage graduate students and make sure they are represented on the assembly because they are “a crucial part of the UM community.”
“The first step is to fill each of MSA’s Rackham representative seats,” he wrote. “As has been the case in the past, there are currently several vacancies, which any Rackham student can occupy.”
He added that he hopes that by pushing more Rackham students to run for positions in MSA, the assembly will be able to better address the needs of graduate students.
“What we hope to do come fall, is encourage more of the graduate student body to represent their peers who can then help MSA to engage Michigan’s graduate students,” he wrote.