March 1, 2010

Voting With Scrutiny

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It is that time of the year again when the political savvy and ambitious gather their chalk buckets, spray paint and poster boards to, once again, slather our campus with their rhetoric in hopes of garnering our votes for the Cornell Student Assembly elections. And if this year’s candidates and their campaign slogans and promises continue to be facsimiles of those before them, then the Cornell student body should be very worried: It is the monotony of these campaigns that have alienated almost the entire undergraduate population from the only body that can voice their issues. And with our university undergoing a profound transformation, the role of the Student Assembly as our sole means of creating official resolutions has become ever more important.

Yet by looking at the campaign slogans so far, it seems no different from those in the past. Once again, we are inundated with the usual initiatives and clichéd platforms, promising us longer library hours on weekends, free public transportation and a late night diner on central campus during the weekends.

Again, the candidates preach the same vague visions of change, progress, transparency, accountability and accessibility, reassuring us that they will be dedicated, determined, responsible, sympathetic, experienced and creative.

Again, they hand us a padded resume that boasts their credentials, citing invaluable experience as high school presidents or at a summer internship, which hold little relevance to governing through the Student Assembly.

Again, they flatter us with a surge of Facebook invitations, pleading us to join and spread the word — all nicely packaged with a glamour picture and a short autobiography.

And again, only a small portion of us, the constituency, will vote. And even fewer of us will vote with purpose and scrutiny. Most will haphazardly click their way through the long list of candidates, only pausing to vote for their friends or a familiar name.

Unfortunately, this mundane process is simply the nature of campus politics, and is mostly immune to change. What can change, however, are the voters. This year, let us make three changes to our voting habits for the greater good of our university.

First, let us examine the substance behind their words, scrutinizing their promises and goals. Are they appropriately prioritized? We cannot deny that a late night food diner near central campus would offer convenience during the weekends, but would it be a wise allocation of our money when we are slashing funds from our academic departments? And do the candidates reveal their financial and political strategies to achieve their goals, specifying whether they will utilize a grassroots campaign or directly approach the bureaucracy? Many of our candidates are ambitious — and rightly so — however, achieving their goals will require a careful blueprint; otherwise, their promises would simply be empty rhetoric. Rather than quickly scrolling through the election website, let us, at the least, skim through each of their statements and make a thoughtful decision before submitting our votes.

Secondly, we must vote. The current state of undergraduate voting is abysmal: In the previous year, the percentage of students who vote in assembly and council elections teetered at a lowly 20 percent of the total undergraduate population excluding seniors. Still, it was an improvement from previous years. The process of voting cannot be more efficient and it is a shame that so few of us take advantage of its convenience: We received an e-mail this morning with a link to a webpage asking for our NetIDs and passwords, afterwards to the voting page. It requires little effort, but our combined contributions will have immense impact on the future of Cornell undergraduates.

Third, we must hold our representatives accountable. Let’s make sure that they fulfill their duties as our representatives and push for the agenda they promised us. Many of the candidates publicize their e-mail addresses and even their cell phone numbers: Contact your representative and ask them about their progress and initiatives. We must ensure that our representatives will, as they have promised, tirelessly fulfill their duties to serve and represent their constituents, for they are our only communication line into Day Hall.

Granted, this election will not make history by hosting a female and a black presidential candidate and will not potentially solve the greater maladies plaguing our country. But the results of these elections will have comparable effects in our four years at Cornell. The decisions of the Student Assembly are pervasive and will be felt throughout campus, whether you are an engineer or a Hotelie, a senior or freshman, or Greek or non-Greek.

Today, March 2, I urge you to vote for your representatives. With the Student Assembly as our principal voice on campus, the responsibility rests with us to carefully choose our leaders and ensure that our voices are properly and loudly heard.

Original Author: Steven Zhang