Now that spring break is over, everyone’s favorite time at Brown is right around the corner: the annual elections for leadership positions on the Undergraduate Council of Students and the Undergraduate Finance Board.
Readers who chortled or scoffed at the previous sentence would be forgiven for doing so — for many students, the UCS and UFB election season seems like a tedious time of encountering silly posters in dining halls and getting inundated with vote-soliciting emails. Though last year’s UCS presidential election featured a 49 percent increase in voter participation, recent years have seen less than 50 percent of undergraduates cast ballots for the presidential candidates. And while the UCS presidential race often gets more attention, many students overlook campaigns for other executive board posts as well as for UFB chair, despite the sway that these office-holders possess over student group funding, relations with University Hall and a host of other critical issues.
Too many Brown students seem to adopt the default response to UCS/UFB election season of either tuning out or just randomly picking candidates whose names they recognize. Such misplaced apathy and low turnout highlights the need for rethinking the elections process.
At a public event last month, President Obama gave a nod to the mandatory voting system in place in Australia and other countries by saying “it would be transformative if everybody voted,” multiple news outlets reported. The president’s remarks sent ripples through the American political scene, given that the United States has no mandatory voting system and has historically faced low voter turnout rates. In fact, in each presidential election since 1972, over 40 percent of the voting-age population has not voted, while midterm elections have seen even worse turnout figures. Amid such dismal numbers, boosting voters’ participation in elections serves to broaden the number of voices candidates must listen to, increasing engagement and accountability.
We’ll refrain from commenting on the wisdom of a national mandatory voting system. But we believe in seriously examining ways to boost turnout in UCS and UFB elections. One solution could be to tie pre-registration for next semester’s courses to a link to an online ballot so that in each electoral category, students would have to either select a candidate or mark “none of the above.” This option would preserve students’ rights to refrain from voting for any candidate while likely boosting turnout. The University already requires students to fill out course evaluation forms — or opt out of doing so — in order to view final grades, so why should evaluating student leaders be any different? Another proposal worth exploring is allowing those who have already accepted offers of admission to the University’s incoming class to vote, given that as of now, first-years have no choice in picking the UCS and UFB leaders who preside over one-fourth of their time at Brown.
The UCS and UFB election season should not just be a time for goofy slogans and tuning out. Opening the doors to greater participation in picking the leaders who ostensibly represent the whole student body — and control the purse strings for student groups — should be a paramount concern for everyone.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Mathias Heller ’15 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.