Student Senate candidates subvert election process with write-in votes

Credit: Christa Hester/Forum Co-Editor Credit: Christa Hester/Forum Co-Editor

A full sixth of the Carnegie Mellon student population cast a ballot in last week’s student government elections.
A 1,700-student turnout would be considered abysmal by most metrics, but by Carnegie Mellon standards it represents quite an improvement over the nadir of 2007, when barely 1,000 students voted in an election plagued by procedural and technical malfunctions. This year, we feel more confident that the final tallies in races for student body president and vice president, vice president for organizations, and vice president for finance express the will of the electorate — at least to the extent that the electorate here has a will in the first place.

It is a different case, however, in the Undergraduate Student Senate. Once again, persistent lack of interest in student government ensured that we had more open Senate seats than candidates willing to fill them.

The voting results are laughable. Four seats in the College of Fine Arts were won with two votes each. It was possible to get into Senate from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the Tepper School of Business, and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences with five votes or fewer. The sole standout is the Mellon College of Science, where — judging by the vote tallies — all five Senate seats went to candidates who had actually campaigned for them.

If a successful Senate campaign consists of asking your three closest friends for a write-in vote the night before the election, it may be time to re-examine the process of becoming a candidate.

According to official student government documents, a Student Senate candidate wishing to appear on the ballot in April must gather signatures of at least 25 students from his or her college in February, then attend a “mandatory” candidate information session. With more than half of this year’s Senate seats going to write-in candidates, it seems many students have decided that these rules and procedures are unnecessary.

We agree, at least, that the system is broken somewhere.We also question how dedicated these write-in winners will be in fulfilling their newly acquired duties as Student Senators: Deciding to run for elected office on a whim does not strike us as the best guarantee of continued interest for a full school year. Given the do-nothing attitude of this year’s student government in general, we desperately need an incoming class of leaders ready to effect meaningful change in the way Carnegie Mellon students view their elected representatives. Right now, it is unclear whether the next year will be any better than the last.