Flames of the Torch

On March 17 and 18, Student Government, Inc. will be holding their 2008 elections. As the days draw nearer, many students are left wondering not who they are going to vote for, but whether they should bother voting in the first place.

Indifference in the student body about SGI elections is nothing new. Last year, according to Frank Jerome, Student Affairs’ business analyst, only 633 students voted in the Spring 2007 elections.

The candidates for the upcoming election hope that voter turnout will increase to one thousand this year. But when considering that the current St. John’s undergraduate population is about 15,000 (meaning only around 6% of students voted last year), one would not be very optimistic about the expected turnout.
Of course, it is very easy to just blame lazy or apathetic students for the low turnout, but is it really the fault of the students?

Before pointing any fingers, one should try thinking about why students would not even bother to take a minute or two to cast their ballot online or in one of the many voting stations placed around campus.

The problem may lie with Student Government itself. Namely, the two opposing tickets may not be opposing enough.

While each ticket has chosen a different area as their main focus, both declare on their SGI platform pages that are posted on stjohns.edu that they want to increase student involvement in SGI, improve the way that events and organizations are run on campus, and enhance inter-departmental communication and cooperation.

With both tickets so similar in their stances, what criteria are students using to decide whom to vote for?

This may come as a shock, or perhaps it won’t be a surprise at all, but many students are voting on the basis of who they know.

In the end, the election, much like other college student government elections, has come down to nothing more than a popularity contest. It’s just like high school all over again.

Another issue with the election is that both tickets have stated what they plan to accomplish, neither group really makes it clear how they are actually going to make anything happen. They all want to make SGI more accessible to students, but they do not say how. More importantly, even if they can make SGI more accessible, they do not say how they are going to get students to care enough to involve themselves.

So, if the platforms are unable to help students to choose a ticket, what criteria should they use?

The SGI election pages on the St. John’s Web site also include individual pages written by the members of each ticket. Students should examine the involvement of each candidate to see what significant impacts they have made on campus life.
They should look at the track record of anyone who has held an SGI position previously to see if they will be able to fulfill the promises that they have made in their platforms. Though the individual platforms may not be different, the people behind them could give them more legitimacy.

Students should come out to vote on Monday and Tuesday. If they make the effort to get to know all of the candidates beforehand, they will not be left with the last resort of simply voting for whoever’s name they recognize, but for those who are truly qualified.

Knowing all the people who are running will help to eliminate indifference because students will no longer see just the similar platforms, but the qualifications of the people behind them.