By Derek Foret
There’s something just extremely pleasing about going to the polls. Whether it’s the sense of responsibility, fulfillment of a civic duty or air of importance around the event, there’s just something about receiving that little sticker on Election Day that makes you want to grab a flag and a slice of apple pie (and a bald eagle if you can find one), break out in red, white and blue and parade down Main Street singing your best rendition of “America the Beautiful.” (In English please, no matter what certain soft drink companies aired during the Super Bowl. Communist pigs.)
Wait, sorry, are you guys not on the same page as me? Perhaps that’s why only a resounding 388 of us a vote in student council and senate elections this year. Obnoxious patriotism aside, the fact that less than one quarter of studentsvoted shows that there is an inexcusable gap between our student government and the body it’s supposed to serve. Recently, contributor Jonah Allon ’16 argued that this apathy was directly caused by the online nature of the polls and that our only hope would be to return to brick-and-mortar booth voting, as he didn’t “exactly feel the same surge of civic pride after clicking a few names and hitting submit” (“Online Campus Elections Hurt the Voter Turnout,” April 10, 2014).
While Allon, calling for a more active role from student government during elections, is certainly justified, the fact that he thinks the diagnosed “apathy” problem would be fixed with making the elections less accessible is quite troubling to me. While there is certainly something to be said about student government’s physical presence on campus, the problem is much more pervasive than the difference between clicking or checking a box. If we’re not voting online, why would we wait in an actual line to do so? I agree with Allon that if student government wants the election process to mean anything, it needs to build a meaningful culture around the electoral process. But trashing the online voting system for the sake of the patriotic feeling a voting booth carries with it just isn’t the way to do so.
I’ll be perfectly honest here: the only reason I logged on to vote was because of the urging of a friend who was running for a position. While I was intending to just vote for him or her and skip the rest, especially when I came across lists of names I had never heard of, I realized that each candidate running had an accessible PDF of their letter of intent.
Now, Allon said that he “was hard-pressed to find a single substantive idea in any of those forms.” However, not only is that not the fault of student government but of those running for positions (and perhaps an indicator that you shouldn’t vote for them), but even that amount of information is more than what voters would get at a polling place. I’ve voted in a few local elections in my hometown of Washington, D.C. and honestly, it was easier to find actual information about all the candidates here at Kenyon than about those running for D.C. City Council. Taking away the online aspect of the voting would make this information less accessible, which would only regress the state of our elections.
But getting rid of the online system does more than just make it harder to be an informed voter. Allon’s line of thinking points to a trend on campus of always trying to solve things in our heads. It’s perfectly manifested itself in the whole separation wall debate — while both sides have done a great job of showing their ideas off through art installations and counter-essays, hardly any actual discussion has taken place. And while I am a firm believer in the classic ideological defense of a Liberal Arts Education,™ nothing can get done in the physical world if we translate that line of thinking into politics. All it does is make us think we did something productive while in reality either nothing changed or something practical (such as online voting) was thought out of existence. We can change our voting practices and try to instill political passion all we want, but if we want real change, we need to come face to face with real issues that we can affect. If we want to care, we need to see how both student government and the electoral process translate to tangible and noticeable action in our community. If we want to have a political impact in the world, then we need to get out of our heads.
Derek Foret ’17 is a math major from Washington, D.C. He can be be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.