Jonah Allon, Contributor
Student Council’s continued failure to connect with the student body came into stark relief last week, with the turnout for student elections indicating what we already knew: people either don’t know, don’t care, or some combination of both. This is undeniably a problem, but it’s not an unresolvable problem. Instead of throwing up our hands in exasperation and bemoaning the decline of student democracy, let’s examine the student election system as it currently functions to find areas for potential improvement. Even a cursory glance at the system reveals several shortcomings that we can easily work toward fixing.
The most glaring problem with our election system is its online format. I understand the rationale behind conducting elections online: it requires little manpower to facilitate, it’s easier and more efficient to tally votes, and its easy-to-use format appeals to busybodies and lazy people alike. That’s all fine. But frankly, voting in an election is more than a chore, something you knock out while website-browsing. It’s a dignifying civic duty. Notice the way people carry themselves after casting their vote in a national, or even municipal, election. They are invigorated with a sense of pride, having participated in and contributed to something larger than themselves.
It’s hardly any wonder, then, that people are willing to wait on line for hours to vote in a presidential election (though I’d like to emphasize for the record that I by no means condone long voting lines in any type of election). Call me cynical, but I don’t exactly feel the same surge of civic pride after clicking a few names and hitting “Submit.” If we are serious about driving up voter turnout, we’ll abandon the OrgSync elections and hold old-fashioned paper elections, with votes that can be counted by hand.
At the very least, those in charge of student elections could provide us with more information about the candidates. Ignorance, in my opinion, is the primary source of apathy. Ignorance, of course, can also breed toxic participation. That makes our interests in disseminating better information about candidates twofold. Moreover, it’s just common sense. How am I supposed to make an informed decision about my elected officials if I don’t know where they stand on issues that are important to me?
I recognize, by the way, that the emails encouraging people to vote included letters of intent for each candidate. These were informative to a degree, but I was hard-pressed to find a single substantive idea in any of those forms — things candidates intended on achieving if elected to their desired positions.
That’s not their fault; they simply weren’t prompted correctly. I’m not suggesting that candidates develop comprehensive platforms. But in order to encourage informed voting, they ought to at least have a few ideas to present to the community.
On the topic of idea presentation, wouldn’t a student electorate be much more compelled to vote by public addresses than Google Drive forms? Public speaking abilities should not by any means be a barrier to holding elected office at Kenyon, especially if you have strong ideas. But in the annual cycle of college governance, public appearances are most crucial during the election period. For a council struggling to improve its outreach to the general student body, early public announcements of the efforts each member plans to undertake during their tenure in office should seem like a no-brainer.
As a member of student government, it’s easy to look at a low election turnout and absolve yourself of any responsibility for it. It’s voter apathy, it’s the way this campus is, it’s something outside the scope of our control. But this is an ugly impulse, and it only leads us into a perpetual cycle of frustration.
Instead of resigning ourselves to something that we have incorrectly deemed inevitable, let’s take positive steps toward making our election system a better, more appealing process. This starts with the esteem in which we hold ourselves. If student government wants the student body to take it seriously, it needs to start by taking itself seriously.
Jonah Allon ’16 is a prospective political science major from New York City. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org