Low turnouts at campus elections raise concerns

The lack of nominations and poor voter turnout in September’s elections for College Council (CC) house representatives, house presidents and house social chairs recently brought the level of student interest in campus politics under scrutiny. At the same time, the administration of campus elections came under fire due to two botched elections for house president.

Of the 16 housing groups, over half had a voter turnout of less than 25 percent. For West and Spencer, only one out of 67 eligible students voted. In the race for the Bryant and Woodbridge CC representative, four students were on the ballot and only five students voted. Noah Coburn ’02, a former Junior Advisor (JA), won the election with two write-in votes by his former freshmen.

“I believe this election shows that democracy can really overcome political apathy,” Coburn said in response to his election. “The fact that two of my former freshmen wrote me in as a joke does not mean that I am not going to serve.” On the CC itself, he said: “I have been taken aback by the general inefficient nature of CC thus far.”

Joe Masters ’02, CC co-president, said, “[Participation] is certainly not great, and it is certainly not up to the high turnout of the spring elections, but it is much better than it has ever been.” “Certainly the events of Sept. 11 did not help in getting students’ minds focused on turning in self-nominations and voting.”

Masters also noted that the introduction of JOSE (Judicious Online Secure Elections), the College’s online voting system, has increased participation in recent years.

“I think Williams students have plenty of things to do other than worry about their representation on CC,” said Mayo Shattuck ’03, a CC representative. “The goal of CC is to make it easy for students to organize and participate in things that interest them. Until students realize that CC has a direct influence on the budget of their group, I do not foresee any rise in voter participation.”

Elections for house presidents and social chairs were also problematic this year. Students living in Mark Hopkins were asked to vote several times due to problems with the administration of their elections.

Lindsay Ewan ’04, a resident of Hopkins, said that she “received an email that there was some confusion with the voting on JOSE. So we were told to meet in the [Hopkins] lounge but no one [from the Housing Committee] showed. We then received another email where we were told to vote over email the next day.”

In Pratt House, initial voting found Devin Fitzgibbons ’04, a candidate for house president, passing out ballots to the members of his house. Marked ballots then ended up in a pile on the floor. A runoff between Fitzgibbons and his opponent, Joshua Earn ’04, was to be done via email. This resulted in students emailing the house listserver instead of Healy Thompson ’03, co-president of the Housing Committee, with their choice. Thompson said that “things weren’t perfect at first, but all of the elections turned out well in the end.”

Some students suggested that this year’s elections were an indication that the CC and the Housing Committee’s election procedures are in need of change.

“I have not been here very long, but CC seems like pretty unglamorous work, and it does not seem to affect people’s lives directly,” said Ben Cronin ’05. “I think it is a dangerous precedent for a democratic society to have such a small percentage of the electorate deciding who represents 100 percent of the electorate.”

“On the outset, it looks like only a few people are interested in CC,” said Shattuck.

“However, you have to look at the larger picture. There are four people in Tyler house that could not get on CC because they had such a highly contested race, but if any of them lived in Wood, they would have won by default. It’s really unfortunate that the current system allows for that kind of disparity.”

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