On March 11, 2016, The Brandeis Hoot’s Editorial Board published an editorial titled “Don’t read this, go vote!” to pre-emptively spur more students into voting, instead of characteristically panning low turnout after the fact. According to an article in The Hoot in the following issue, “1,053 out of a total 3,610 undergraduates voted for president. By comparison, 890 students voted in the first round of last year’s spring elections.”
In the first round of spring elections that took place back in March, David Herbstritt ’17 won the Student Union Presidency by two votes—479 to 477—over now-Senator Christian Nuñez ’18. Even though the 1,053 voting students represent a respectable increase in voter turnout, the article from the March 18 issue of The Hoot put turnout at a lackluster 30 percent, although the number more accurately hovers around 29 percent. In my view, this kind of turnout is simply unacceptable.
When we as a student body are given the opportunity to elect representatives who, once in power, have the ability to help enact substantial change, we need to jump on that opportunity with zeal. There is too much at stake to not vote at all, especially when all it takes is literally a minute of your time at the computer screen or on the phone in the palm of your hand. With this kind of accessibility, someone unfamiliar with Brandeis’ undergraduate voting tendencies would be astounded that barely 30 percent of a group well over 3,500 students took a minute of their time to vote.
The issues with attention to the Union go far deeper. If you look at today’s elections, you’ll notice that numerous quads do not have anyone officially listed on the ballot for them, especially upperclassman quads. Mod Cat is a perennial write-in candidate for some of them, although a movement to write-in and elect the deceased-turned-meme gorilla Harambe to Ziv Quad’s senate seat has picked up steam in recent days.
While we see joke candidacies time and time again, “abstain” is the most popular choice, causing elections to be recast in less politically zealous quads (at least when it comes to campus politics), which again tend to be those of the upperclassmen. The Union, campus media (including The Hoot) and many others continue on and on in attempts to show that voting is important and directly impacts each and every student, unfortunately to little or no avail.
The phenomenon of people not paying attention to the activities of their Union spurred a social experiment of mine into action. I had five friends write in my name for the Village Quad Senator election today, and I got five votes. In the Village, a quad that can house 220 students (according to DCL), 46 people voted. With this little experiment I garnered 10.87 percent of the votes. Five votes should not be able to account for over one-tenth of votes cast. It is quite apparent that people do not value what the Union does.
This is where I must say that, although many believe the contrary, Brandeis’ undergraduate Student Union is extremely important. The Senate is extremely important, as is the Executive Board, the Allocations Board, the Treasury and the Judiciary. Every committee is significant, and each and every one of our elected student representatives is doing important work for you.
The issues that we deal with on a daily basis are intrinsically tied to the work of the Student Union. Of much focus at the beginning of this semester has been the recent changes to campus dining hours and offerings. Many are not happy about it. I wrote about this issue and general frustration over what Brandeis Dining has been doing in last week’s issue of The Hoot, but make no mistake, the Union is at least trying to make the situation better (albeit somewhat cryptically). Don’t believe me? They released a statement on September 1 to their Facebook page which said that,
“This morning, Student Union leaders met with the Brandeis Sodexo team to discuss the recent campus dining changes. Student Union President David Herbstritt, Executive Communications Director Maxwell Byer, Executive Senator Hannah Brown and Class of 2019 Senator and Senate Dining Committee Chair Kate Kesselman were joined by Sodexo General Manager Andy Allen, Operations Director Stan Park, District Executive Chef David LaFleur and Dietitian Karen Jew. All sides consider the conversation to have been a productive dialogue. During the meeting, the Student Union officials shared student concerns, and the Sodexo team shared the reasoning, data and impacts of the dining changes. Maxwell Byer shared results of the independent dining survey he sent out with Jacob Edelman, the Executive Director of Academic Involvement. Led by the Senate Dining Committee, we stay committed to advocating for the needs and concerns of the student body and monitoring the state of campus dining. We look forward to future conversations with the Sodexo team on enhancing the campus dining experience.”
Please also keep in mind that this kind of information is available on the Union’s Facebook page, which has barely more than 830 likes. Out of the total of 3,610 undergraduates enrolled as of last semester, barely 23 percent of students are in the loop of the day-to-day activities of their student representatives. For comparison, that number is less than the percentage of Brandeis undergraduates that like The Hoot or The Justice on Facebook. The latter exceeds the Union in that category by over 1,000 likes.
If you believe the Union is not useful, fine. If you don’t vote but are fully knowledgeable as to the functions and overall importance of our elected student organization, I don’t agree with you, but fine. If you choose not to vote because you believe that the Union does not do anything to help you or is somehow not accountable to the student body, I highly recommend that instead of ignoring the process, you run for a position and make the difference for your peers that you think the Union should be doing. Rates of voter turnout for Brandeis undergraduate elections have been unacceptable, and it’s up to you to hold both the Union and yourself accountable through participation in the process.