Even though 5C student government officers have control over huge sums of money that all students are required to pay and their actions can impact every student on campus, many students are choosing not to run for office or vote in elections.
In recent years, the 5C student governments have frequently filled more than half their positions through uncontested races, and voter turnout has been as low as 21.5 percent.
Nine of the 14 positions in SAS, seven of the 14 positions in ASPC, three of the seven positions in ASCMC, and four of the five positions up for election on Pitzer Senate Executive Board were uncontested in election cycles during the past month. ASHMC was unable to provide TSL with data regarding uncontested positions before press time.
“[Having uncontested elections] removes the aspect of a voter check, which is always dangerous in elections,” Skye Jacobs PO ’21 said.
But Irene Yi SC ’19, the previous executive vice president and incoming president of SAS, does not believe uncontested positions pose a huge concern.
“I think that the people that do run do it for really good reasons because they are really committed about the field … [and] the position that they’re going into,” Yi said.
Charles Dawson HM ’19, formerly an ASHMC senator, agreed.
“I think that, once elected, all of the officials do a really good job of representing their constituencies,” he said.
However, Dawson added that there are some downsides to this situation.
“I think it is unfortunate that there’s a lack of breadth in initiatives that get proposed as part of the campaign platforms, but … overall it doesn’t really diminish the representative capacity of ASHMC,” he said.
Even when there are contested elections, candidates often struggle to get students to vote.
In the 2018 student government elections, Claremont McKenna College had the highest turnout at 53.7 percent, followed by Scripps College at 44.7 percent and Pomona College at 42.1 percent. However, Pitzer had only half that at 21.5 percent. ASHMC Senate Chair Nick Richardson HM ’20 did not provide specific data for Harvey Mudd College to TSL before press time.
“It wasn’t in my face,” Raoul Sojwal PZ ’21 said of the Pitzer Senate candidates’ campaigning efforts. “I didn’t hear much about what they were planning on doing in the Student Senate, I just kind of saw their names.”
At CMC, Skip Wiltshire-Gordon CM ’19 said many students do not vote due to a combination of apathy and a lack of understanding about how student government operates.
“I think a lot of people just aren’t really clear on what ASCMC does,” he said. “I know obviously we get emails [and] there are big pushes for transparency every year, but students still aren’t really up to date, nor do they really appear to care too much about what’s going on, frankly.”
At Scripps, Annarose Hunt SC ’21 said one of the causes of low voter turnout is the fact that students do not always know that elections are happening.
Hunt only knew about the SAS elections after her roommate had been elected as sophomore class president. Information about SAS elections is sent out through email, but she said the emails sometimes get lost due to the sheer quantity of them.
“In general, I feel like Scripps is really bad at communicating things that are important versus things that are kind of mundane and everyday,” Hunt said.
Dawson reported similar issues with email communication at HMC, as important emails tended to “get lost in the sludge of student senate emails that get sent out.”
Yi thinks contested elections could also help increase voter participation, because “people get more excited about who’s running.”
Student governments also make efforts to inform students about elections and boost voter participation.
Scripps incentivizes voting by throwing a pizza party for the class with the highest voter turnout. Candidates give speeches at the Student Union, which are broadcast live on Facebook and recorded for students to watch later. Posters with candidate platforms are also placed in the on-campus dorms.
At CMC, candidates give a speech at evening snack, and their statements are published by the CMC Forum.
Candidates for ASPC give speeches during a dinner at Frank, and their candidate statements are emailed to the full student body.
Jaimie Ding SC ’21 is from Vancouver, Washington. She previously served as one of TSL’s news editors.