Last night, LIVEChicago was elected the executive slate for the 2011-2012 school year, beating out UNITED Students Alliance in a close and intensely campaigned race. Especially when compared to last year, when Next Generation was the only serious slate to run against the satirical Moose Party, this year’s race was a unique case in the Student Government (SG) elections. However, out of the other fifteen elected positions on the ballot, nine were one-candidate races. The position for graduate liaison to the Board of Trustees couldn’t even fare that well: “Write-in” was the only available option for voters. The new Community and Government Liaison position, created last spring, had first-year Angela Wang as the only listed option. All second- and third-year class representative seats were unopposed as well, with eight candidates running for eight vacant spots. In other words, half of College Council was elected by default.
Needless to say, empty ballots like the ones in this week’s election aren’t the most effective way to organize good, qualified student representation. Though a candidate’s competence has nothing to do with whether or not they have opposition, having multiple options in an election allows for campus-wide discussion. More importantly, this scarcity of candidates is a self-perpetuating cycle: Weak participation can lead to unaccountable representation, which, in turn, discourages students from getting involved. It reflects badly on SG when positions go unopposed.
This problem doesn’t have to be permanent. Firstly, SG should be wary when creating new positions throughout the year; though initiatives like the Community and Government Liaison are admirable in their intention, it’s unwise to further decentralize a group that already has trouble engaging students. Before creating new positions, SG should ensure that the core ones are being filled by competent, enthusiastic, and genuine representatives.
Student participation in running for office can also be increased by better-defined roles in SG. The liaison roles are far from being well-defined, especially compared to the more set-in-stone duties of class and slate representatives. Their vague nature can turn off a lot of students who see them as placeholders with no real power to enact change. SG can’t afford to be perceived as a disorganized and amorphous body. Students will only run for positions if they believe them to be serious opportunities.
Finally, encourage an element of cohesion to the class representative and liaison elections. The slate elections, which usually draw the most attention, are most compelling because they emphasize the unity and teamwork of three students, cultivating an image of solidarity and promoting a universal message of campus reform. Class representatives and liaisons should be encouraged to run as slates, presenting themselves as a more unified front for the student body to consider during elections. The scarcity of candidates in SG elections does not have to become a U of C tradition; if small but significant efforts are made, future SG election races can pick up the pace.
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