Student Government, Inc. has had only two fully contested executive board elections since 2000 and the 2006 elections will not change that trend. Only the vice president’s position is being contested this year.
Three candidates are vying for the vice-president post while each of the remaining six executive board positions have only one candidate on the ballot.
“We all thought the presidency was going to be contested, up until the deadline came up,” said Steven Szczesny, current junior senator and a vice-presidential candidate.
It’s a trend that’s becoming all too familiar. Last year, every position was uncontested except the president’s race, which had two candidates on the ballot. One of the reasons for the dearth of candidates is the stringent set of requirements one must meet in order to qualify for the role, according to several candidates running this year.
“One of the qualifications to run for e-board is that you have to, if you’re running for vice president or president, serve for two years on the floor of Student Government or as a committee chair,” said Dan King, the uncontested candidate for SGI treasurer. “That factor alone severely limits the number that can run.”
According to Student Government’s by-laws, students who wish to run for the office of president or vice president must have completed at least 55 academic credits at St. John’s. The president must have served either two years as an elected member or a committee chair, while the vice president must have served either two years as an elected official or one year as a committee chair.
Any student who wishes to fill the role of secretary or treasurer must have 55 academic credits and have served one term as either an elected member or a chairperson.
“It really eliminates a lot of the population,” Szczesny said. “I know that’s something that [presidential candidate John Buddenhagen] was speaking about. If he does become president, he wants to change it to make more people eligible to run so these uncontested elections don’t happen, because then you’re just getting the people who want to do it, you’re not necessarily getting the cream of the crop.”
The lack of contested races has significantly impacted voter turnout on campus. Along with problems finding candidates, St. John’s has also seen a low voter turnout that has suffered a steady decline in recent elections.
In 2001, a total of 1,118 students voted in executive board elections. In 2004, the number dropped to 856 votes, and by 2005 the total number of student voters dropped by nearly 50 percent to 427, only 2.8 percent of the undergraduate population.
While there has been a decrease in candidates and voters, there has also been a decrease in the number of campaign violations recorded. The 2004 elections saw multiple violations against each ticket, while the 2005 race ended without a single recorded violation on either side.
Strict qualification requirements aren’t the only reason for the limited interest. Other factors which may have led to the lack of candidates include poor publicity and apathetic students, according to several candidates running this year
Publicity about elections and the organization in general has been a problem for SGI throughout the year. According to a recent Torch survey, 53 percent of students do not know what the initials “SGI” stand for., and 86 percent of students had no qualms admitting they had never voted in a Student Government election. Members, at the time, attributed this to poor publicity.
“This just tells me that we as an e-board need to put more work into promoting SGI,” said current SGI Treasurer Wesley Faucher in The Torch’s Feb. 15 issue. “We failed as an e-board if [the students] don’t know what SGI is.”
Candidates in the current election agree that poor publicity is, in part, to blame for the situation.
“The student body says that they don’t really know Student Government or the e-board,” said Jomisett Jimenez, a candidate for vice president. “In a sense it’s true. I transferred into this university as a sophomore and I didn’t know a thing about Student Government or the positions that were open.”
King said that Student Government has to do a better job of letting the students know what positions are available and when elections will be held. Apathy, he continued, is also a problem for Student Government.
“We have a lot of trouble getting [students] mobilized,” King said. “This may be because of the large commuter population we have at St. John’s. It’s hard to get people actively involved in the community that we have here.”
Only the dedicated students, current secretary and vice presidential candidate Diana Lounsbury said, are willing to go above and beyond to fill the leadership roles.
With the recent problems with attaining quorum at meetings, SGI has had difficulty finding students to fill the vacant positions on the floor. Although the issue of apathetic members has plagued SGI throughout the year, they acknowledge that the lack of candidates in the race for office has brought it to the forefront of members’ minds.
“As the year’s progressed it has shown that maybe our members aren’t as involved as they should be,” King said. “The next progressive step from having members uninvolved is having members not running.
“It comes down to how the floor is set up,” King continued. “If you have an extremely active floor where everyone’s participating and feeling very involved, it’s easy enough to say ‘let’s run for the next position’ and you develop a highly contested ticket. If you have a floor that’s highly uninvolved, you’re going to have a limited candidate pool.”