Opinion | Op-eds

What, to a Columbian, is a student council election anyway?

This year’s student government elections for Columbia College, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of General Studies ended last Friday after three days of voting. The winners of the elections have since been determined and announced by the new Columbia Elections Board. The Elections Board found that the simultaneity of all three council elections, the new candidate mixers, and the 35 percent increase in number of candidates running correlated to a 25 percent increase in voter turnout over last year’s election. I am pleased to see the democratic process thriving in my time here, most notably with the initiation of a sandwich ambassadorship to save the masses from “the very significant problem of sandwich price inflation”—a cause I sincerely support. But I must humbly voice my concerns over the gruesome injustice committed during polling this year, which jeopardizes the legitimacy of nearly our entire pseudo-democratic pseudo-government.

While voting on Columbia’s LionLink website, I was given my umpteenth simple choice between candidates. Like all of my previous choices, they had been well represented on ColumbiaElections.com/vote. I had even seen these particular candidates’ flyers around campus. But I couldn’t justify choosing either group for the position. I knew nothing about them, their motivations for running, or their real characters. Then it hit me: I didn’t know what the office they were running for even did, let alone why it mattered!

I felt embarrassed at first. But very quickly, I covered that embarrassment at being ignorant with self-righteous apathy. I’ll bet that nobody voting in this silly election knows what they’re doing it for! I don’t want to give up my vote to someone I’ll forget tomorrow, or help them win an office that will make their résumé way more impressive than mine! You know what? It probably won’t impact me anyway! I returned to my browser nervously puffing my chest out, fully prepared to deny both parties my vote, even though it was I who hadn’t been knowledgeable enough to make the decision. Ready to click ahead to the next page (without a single box checked!), I had succeeded in more than just releasing myself from the responsibility of voting. I had rewarded myself with a feeling of superiority to all of those other chumps who had wasted any thought on the matter. Click.

Error: You must select at least one choice to continue.

Back to the same page, with the same two choices, now highlighted with red—in case I had forgotten what I was there to do. What the heck is this!? The instructions clearly say I can choose “one or none” of the following choices! Would all of the previous pages have been as opposed to my righteous, enlightened apathy? I had apparently called LionLink’s bluff: You could not proceed in voting without making a choice. But in the same moment, it had called my own: Was I really willing to give up the time and thought I had given to this ballot just to abstain from making one more little choice? I felt thoroughly miffed. Acting only as logically as I could in my childish state of ignorance, I threw a small fit for having lost the game of chicken and resolved to find external justification for my behavior. (Ctrl+Tab...) 

Here’s an excerpt of what I posted to Facebook that day: “Please add an Abstain button to every page of voting in future years. I want my apathy to be part of the democratic process in a measurable manner and a more honest one than voting for someone I don’t believe in. tl;dr I’m an apathetic voter.”

I know my claim is feverish, but it represents a legitimate concern. I found out from friends that there was a “None” choice available on every page of the Engineering Student Council elections—something that validates and respects engineers’ abstinence. On all previous pages of my own ballot, I had a “Write In” option that I could leave blank and continue past. But it’s just not the same. I concede that, while failing to make a choice is not necessarily better than choosing, it must still be available when the only alternative is making an uninformed or bad choice. The option to abstain should also be available to give a legitimate voice to voter apathy.

Student government may seem kind of silly—and I really do believe that it is—but sincere people within it deserve a way better constituent than me. A few friends involved told me what they knew about the issue, suggested where I could turn for help, and encouraged me to reach out to election officials. To my embarrassment, I have still taken none of those suggestions to officially address my grievance. 

I know it’s hypocritical, but I’m hoping that student government won’t be apathetic toward my defense of abstinence. Maybe they can even begin to address the source of this apathy: disconnect between the student body and its government. 

The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in astrophysics. 

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

An earlier version of this article misidentified the author as a physics major. The author is actually an astrophysics major. Spectator regrets the error.

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Frederick Douglass... posted on

Is not pleased with this headline.

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