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Freshman Elections Reform

Guest Column
Jyoti Tibrewala

It’s now almost three weeks into the term, and the results of the freshmen elections are out. I have to admit, some of the posters inside 77 Mass. Ave. were quite interesting. However, there are many aspects of the election process which closely resembled those of a popularity contest.

Let us begin the investigation by analyzing the timing of the elections. The process began shortly before classes started. At that time, there were still a good deal of freshmen who didn’t know too many of their fellow classmates. My initial reaction was that this would reduce the popularity-contest aspect of the election: if the majority of people do not know anyone, they are less likely to vote for a particular candidate solely because they know him or her.

How, then, do your fellow freshmen get to know you and why you’re running? Most of the time, this is done through advertisements and speeches. There were plenty of posters and signs, but how many students, while traveling down the Infinite Corridor to get to a class, will take a minute to stop and read one? Running between classes, I can often be seen reading notes or eating a meal on the run; friends have often called me up later to say they saw me and called to me, but that I did not respond.

This leaves speeches as the only way to become familiar with a candidate’s stance on the issues. However, there were no speeches. Voters, therefore, had little opportunity to find out what the candidates were about.

I won’t discount the Meet the Candidates Study Break. No doubt this was intended to take the place of having students all gather to listen to speeches. The idea behind the study break was a good one -- don’t get me wrong. What better way to woo students than to offer free food and a break from MIT? But giving candidates thirty seconds to address an audience is not a productive means of relaying one’s aspirations as a class officer.

Furthermore, there must be a great many freshmen who did not attend the study break. I had originally intended to go to the study break, because I wanted badly to be able to make an informed choice come voting day. But I couldn’t for the simple reason that I had to study.

It has been observed that students are generally the most academically motivated at the beginning of the term; in high school, our teachers used to paraphrase this by telling us that our grades would be high at the beginning of the semester but would drop slightly as time passed because, if you start at the top, there’s nowhere to go but down. Or you could look at it this way: if you performed poorly on the first problem set, the grade was quite a shock and perhaps a number you would never like to see with your name again; so, you would be more motivated on the second problem set.

On another note, I ran into a few of the freshmen candidates the night of and the day after the study break, and at least one informed me that she did not attend the Meet the Candidates Study Break. Even considering this piece of evidence alone, there must have been a good portion of the voting freshman class who also did not make an appearance.

Thus the freshman elections were, in essence, a popularity contest. In keeping with most elections, voter turnout was low; no doubt a lot of freshmen were poorly informed of voting dates and paper balloting times and locations. But if candidates weren’t all overflowing with enthusiasm, one can’t really blame student voters for their lack of interest. Many of those students who did vote in the elections chose people whom they knew; many will openly admit to doing so. And people will continue to do so until the procedure is revamped, and contact between candidates and voters, as well as interest in student elections -- on the part of both candidates and voters -- can be established.

Jyoti Tibrewala is a member of the Class of 2004.