After a term plagued with scandal, this year’s student government elections should have driven students to the ballot box to elect representatives who would change the University for the better. However, last week’s embarrassingly low voter turnout proved that an overwhelming majority of students remain disillusioned and apathetic about student government elections. Just as in years past, there is much concern, but few original ideas. Here’s the obvious solution: In order for students to regain their interest in voting and student government, more legitimate political parties from which voters could choose.
Only 6.4 percent of eligible voters – a measly 2,246 students – cast ballots last week, and as expected the Michigan Action Party swept the election. In the Michigan Student Assembly’s presidential race, 71 percent of voters picked MAP’s candidates, and all 13 MAP representative candidates earned spots on the assembly. In LSA Student Government, MAP ran unopposed for the presidency and vice-presidency and won nine representative seats. These results are almost carbon copies of those from the past few years – in each election, MAP or its predecessor Students 4 Michigan crushed the competition.
Many could dismiss this as another example of voter apathy, a problem emblematic of young people’s attitude toward voting in races at every level. But at the University, the situation is different. These blowouts hardly convince students that their votes make a difference. It’s not that students at the University don’t care about student politics; they just don’t have an incentive to care about an election that seems more and more like a formality.
It hasn’t always been like that. The highest voter turnout in recent years was in 2006, when there was real competition between parties with platforms that were different, yet legitimate. The two main competitors were S4M and the Michigan Progressive Party. The Conservative Party and the Defend Affirmative Action Party threw their hats in the ring too, though they ultimately proved to be less serious contenders. But all the parties offered students something they don’t really have now: choice.
To be fair, other parties were represented in last week’s race, with DAAP and the Change In Action party both putting forth candidates. The problem with these parties was that their platforms weren’t strong enough to pose a serious threat. DAAP has noble intentions of integrating campus, but its goals of abolishing the student code of conduct and ending racism are broad and vague, and the party’s platform lacks concrete goals that is could reasonably accomplish. The Change In Action party, while adamant in its opposition to corruption, was still a fledgling party.
If new parties intend to legitimately challenge the MAP political powerhouse, they have several obstacles. They must be persistent, bucking the trend of new groups that spring up and then fizzle out after a loss. But endurance isn’t enough. A legitimate new party must address issues missing from other parties’ platforms. It must set an agenda that is relevant to campus with realistic goals that it will pursue once elected. Even when a new party loses with an innovative platform, the dominant party is expected to incorporate some of these ideas – that’s accountability.
Students need contested elections and more choices to make them feel that their votes really matter. This year’s turnout should not be taken as voter apathy; it should be seen as a plea for more and better choices.