April 22, 2014

GUEST ROOM: Vote to Make Your Voice Heard

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As the incoming Director of Elections for the Student Assembly, I have pledged to defend and strengthen the democratic institutions on our campus. I have also pledged to make the elections for those institutions more participatory and representative. And I strongly believe that these two responsibilities entrusted in me complement each other.

The past several weeks have seen a lot of changes on campus that are sure to define student life in this semester and beyond: S.A. elections, the vote on Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit bus passes and Resolution 72 — to name a few. From my own conversations, I have realized that a lot of students have diverse opinions and concerns on these issues that need to be addressed.

But the question is: how? It is certainly true that some members of our community care passionately about these issues and are consequently vocal in raising them. But it is also true that there is a sizeable body of students who either strongly disagree or simply don’t have the time or interest to invest in these issues. We must admit this basic fact and respect the individual views and choices of each Cornellian.

In the midst of conflict and disagreement amongst stakeholders, it becomes even more important to defend the democratic space that might provide for the resolution of those differences. The Student Assembly represents one such democratic space that we cannot undermine or ignore.

It is astonishing to notice that while these issues have generated a lot of debate on campus, voter turnout and participation in the S.A. elections this spring was far from satisfactory. In the recently concluded elections, 3,829 students voted for the SA President, representing just 30 percent of the undergraduate population. This was down from 4,301 students in spring 2013.

This election season not only saw fewer candidates running but also several uncontested races. And past voting trends clearly establish a direct correlation between the number of candidates and voter turnout. For example, last year, when there were four choices for the Executive Vice President, we saw 4,414 students voting for the candidates. This year the race went uncontested, leading to the voter turnout dropping to just 3,235.

I would regard it as my primary goal to help raise the voter turnout to about 50 percent by exploring all possibilities — such as setting up voting booths across campus and optimizing the election schedule. However, what I can do is only limited. The real responsibility to make our elections more vibrant and inclusive rests on the shoulders of all of us.

We cannot be apathetic to student government elections and then criticize democratic institutions for being unresponsive to us. It would set a healthy precedent if students who have strong opinions or grievances actively participate in campus elections, either as candidates or voters.

Therefore, my appeal to all fellow Cornellians is this: Whether we are satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are done, we are all proud members of this great university. And the least we can do to make our voices heard and bring change is to vote.

The opinions expressed in the article are the personal opinions of the author.

Kushagra Aniket is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically throughout the semester.