By Page Forrest
Remember in middle school, when you ran for class vice president and you had the best campaign posters and a really great platform (longer recess, no homework on weekends) and you still lost because everyone in your class hated you? Okay, that might have just been me. Fortunately, Sewanee students are mature enough to where our elections for student government are not quite a popularity contest. However, that’s not to say that the whole system isn’t still based around how much you can convince people to like you. If you happen to have a friend who’s great at photography, or a last name ridiculous enough to turn into a sexual pun, you already stand a better chance at winning an election here than your peers.
Much like the campaigning and election system of the United States, the system here at Sewanee faces three pitfalls that create a rather undemocratic SGA. First, running requires resources. Second, practically no one votes. Third, those that do vote most likely are voting based on name recognition.
As I mentioned previously, having certain friends or a certain name will immediately give you an advantage in any election. In national elections, the biggest advantage you can have is money. According to CCN on July 11 2013, the average cost of a Senate race is $10.4 million. According to Opensecrets, as of October 31, 2012, spending for the Presidential campaigns that year reached over $6 billion. Fortunately, as broke college students, we all have a level-playing field in that area. The biggest resource here at Sewanee is time. Running for the SGA takes hours dedicated to photoshopping your head onto Ronald Reagan’s and making posts on your class’s Facebook page. Unfortunately, most students don’t have time to do that, and unless they have other people willing to do that for them, the people who have time to run successful campaigns are the ones not involved with many other activities on campus, making them less than ideal to represent our student body.
Last semester, only (get exact percentage, I know it’s like 30% or something) of students voted for in the elections for members of the SGA. If so few people are voting, then there’s no way the outcome accurately represents our student body, especially if we take into account that those that do vote are most likely either doing so because they’re a Politics major and would feel guilty otherwise, or have friends running who would make them feel guilty. In the US as a whole, only 57.5% of people voted in the 2012 presidential election, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. The percentage is consistently lower during years in which only members of Congress are elected. Without the vast majority of the population voting here at Sewanee, we have no way of knowing how well those elected actually represent our student body.
Finally, even within the folks that do vote, actually getting to know the candidates is difficult. The candidates’ only real forums to express who they are and why they want to run are Facebook and flyers around campus, creating an incredibly limited flow of information. Votes for senators from your own grade can be based on personality, if by some chance you know the person running, which may not even be the case, but when voting for the president of the SGA as a freshman, when maybe you know two seniors you aren’t scared of, the vote will most likely be made through name recognition. “That name sounds vaguely familiar and presidential, I’ll vote for that guy.” Or even worse, “Eenie meenie, minie, mo- okay that one, cool.” Unfortunately, the US population doesn’t do a much better job with that. The power of name recognition is often attributed as one of the reasons why incumbents are so frequently re-elected, despite a reported high dissatisfaction with Congress.
There is nothing wrong with any of the folks currently in the SGA. But unfortunately, they are the product of a broken system. A system that parallels the way politicians are elected in the United States as a whole. Revamping the system could lead to a more democratic system of representation, and a more democratic Sewanee. Or, instead, we could just vote for the first person smart enough to realize they could win votes with a decent Instagram filter.