Voter Apathy Plagues Senate Elections
By Elaine Teng '12, Editor-in-Chief
On Sept. 30, the 1,700 members of the student body were asked in a campus-wide email to vote for their class representatives to the Association of Amherst Students (AAS).

Only a handful did. Out of the 478 members of the Class of 2011, 63 people voted, a 13 percent turnout. The Class of 2012 had an even more dismal turnout, with only 50 people voting in all. Turnout increased as the age of the class decreased, with the sophomores ringing in at 37 percent and the first-years voting en masse in comparison.

The low turnout is not a new problem, and AAS President Saumitra Thakur ’11 has an idea as to why.

“My personal theory is that what really drives voter turnout is the competitiveness of the election,” he said. “If only one candidate is running, why vote? It’s good and symbolically powerful, but what does it mean? When I ran for VP the first time, I ran against a really motivated candidate and we both campaigned really hard and had a huge turnout. The second time [I ran], no one ran against me. People voted, but to what avail?”

However, many students did not participate because they do not feel involved in the AAS’ decisions.

“I guess I didn’t vote because I don’t really know what the AAS does or is supposed to do other than [the] Budgetary Council,” said Hayley Anderson ’12. “I only remember hearing about the AAS with regards to elections, not its actual function. It is entirely possible that AAS does a lot and just doesn’t get credit, but it seems pretty invisible to me.”

Thakur acknowledges this problem and has had many discussions with other AAS Senators about how they might remedy this issue.

“There’s a vicious cycle of sorts that if students don’t know about student government they don’t care. If they don’t care, they don’t know,” he said. “We could send out emails to random students to invite them to attend Senate meetings. Anyone can attend Senate meetings, but it’d be great to explicitly invite people. If we’re having a discussion about something, they offer an opinion we may have missed. These are the kinds of things that show that the student government is listening.”

Another potential hindrance to voting is a lack of knowledge about the candidates and their platforms, a problem which Thakur feels has an easy solution.

“A really great step forward is if you have a way to distinguish one Senator from another,” he said. “We could create a more thorough voting record. A really great way to distinguish one Senator from another is the voting record. For example, if you’re on rugby and you didn’t get your funding request, you can go look at the voting record.”

An additional glitch in the election occurred with the Class of 2013. Because a sophomore Senator resigned in the midst of the election, the AAS faced a logistical and ethical problem. They could not wait long to seat the Senator, as many AAS committees and processes would be interrupted, but it would also have been unfair to simply take the second highest vote recipient as people might have voted differently had they been able to choose two candidates. As a result, they held a run-off on Saturday with all the candidates except for the winner of the first election. However, the AAS could not release the results due to a complaint that is currently under review by the AAS Judiciary Council.

“In the end, everything will work out fine. If there is a grievance, we’ll hear it out,” said Thakur. “I really trust everyone on the Judiciary Council. They just want the best possible outcome. Whoever we see will be highly capable and will make a great Senator.”

Issue 05, Submitted 2010-10-06 01:49:41