Just under two weeks ago, our school’s library was the site of Stuyvesant history. Spurred by a legitimate interest in the issues affecting their school and a desire to learn more about the candidates contending to be their representatives to the administration, dozens of students scorned the alluring park to witness the first-ever Student Union (SU) debate on Friday, May 4. This event was one of many that have distinguished this SU election season from previous ones. The changes this year certainly reflect the concerted efforts of individuals working behind the scenes of the election, but also seem to indicate a body of voters that is more concerned about the issues of the school, an encouraging phenomenon which should be commended and supported.
This year’s turnout in the primaries reflect a major change from previous elections: 22 percent of eligible voters participated in the election, up from last year’s 10 percent. We attribute this increase to a series of changes in voting and campaigning policies from the Board of Elections (BOE). For the first time, candidates were able to utilize social media, such as Facebook or Formspring, to interact with voters. Better regulation of campaign managers and official endorsements were also introduced, allowing for voters to have a better idea of who the candidates were, and what they stood for. The BOE also made an effort to streamline the voting process, whose sluggishness has been one reason for such low turnout in years past. Following this editorial board’s suggestion of multiple voting booths, the BOE established a voting booth on the fifth floor in addition to the table by the bridge entrance on the second floor. Recording votes became easier with the use of a Google document that could be simultaneously operated in both booths.
While we commend the BOE for these changes, there is still much that they could do. It is often difficult for students to find time during the school day to vote—wouldn’t more voting booths and longer voting times over multiple days would make the process more accessible? More debates and open forums could also serve to inform the student body of the candidates’ platforms while giving those running the opportunity to hear from students about the issues that really matter. It’s easy to sit here and pat ourselves on the back for the higher turnout the elections have garnered this year, but a measly 22 percent is nothing to be that proud of. We’ve gotten better—but we were in really bad shape to begin with.
Unfortunately, the truth is that the remaining 78 percent of the electorate cannot possibly be reached by simple improvements in the election process. It seems more and more that the vast majority of the students don’t vote in the student elections because they don’t have faith in the efficacy of their current representatives. Indeed, in times of tranquility it’s understandable for the average student to overlook the importance of an institution like the SU. School is busy, and it’s not always clear what the SU is actually doing or why it matters. But the subtle changes that the administration has been able to build up during the reign of the current SU leadership have snowballed into not-so-subtle ones, ones that have taken some time getting used to for the entire school population. The administration has been able to implement any changes it wants with impunity, and we, as the student body, have so far been unable to effectively protest any of the changes through our government or our own actions.
To be sure, many students have been outraged by reductions in electives, quiet attacks on the arts, and the crudely enforced dress code, but they remain without an effective medium to turn their collective outrage into tangible results. This kind of powerlessness can be fixed by empowering the SU and making it a truly representative organization, through increased voter turnout. With the added heft of the majority of students behind it, the organization has the potential to become a powerful negotiating force, and even a means of organizing collective student action.
It’s true that 10 percent is a good start, but we still have a long way to go. This era of apathy towards the SU must end for all students concerned about the administration’s ability to freely impose their will on us. With the right action, the SU can change from a quiet and largely mysterious organization into what it always was intended to be: a powerful force protecting the interests of the students. The only way to facilitate this change is to provide the new president and vice president with an overwhelming mandate from the electorate to stand up for their interests in the general elections on Friday, May 18.