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Winners in the Elections

Roy Esaki

A report commissioned by the National Science Foundation, released last week, declared that voters shouldn’t cast ballots over the Internet because of questions of security, reliability, and social effects. The chairman of the committee claimed that “e-voting requires a much greater level of security than e-commerce -- it’s not like buying a book over the Internet,” and that “remote Internet voting technology will not be able to meet this standard for years to come.”

To accrue the benefits of a convenient and just system, however, students actually need to vote; when the majority of students don’t vote, it makes the whole issue moot.

The some 40 percent turnout for the Undergraduate Association presidential election may be more than last year’s turnout, but it’s still less than the national voter turnout for the 2000 election, which was slightly over half of the eligible population. But the hue and cry about low voter turnout that follows an election is tired and hackneyed. The buzzwords of civic duty, participatory democracy, and the responsibilities of citizenship are happily thrown around to make arguments sound more intellectual and legitimate, with little impact.

Busy as students may be, we presumably had time enough during the week to take four minutes to vote online. Disconnected from current events as we may be, it’s hard to claim unawareness of the election, considering all the e-mails, posters, and media coverage. There may be a few students who refrained from voting as a symbol of protest (in which case filling in “no candidate” is a much better form of active disapproval), but I doubt there are so many conscientious objectors. The primary reason for not voting must thus be that students simply didn’t care to vote.

For all the endless arguments over tickets being taken on or off ballots, proper election coverage in student publications, and allegations of biased conduct by election officials, the majority of the students don’t care. Is that reason for concern? Not in and of itself; studying for that exam will have more of an impact than one person’s vote in the UA election, and though the UA will act upon issues that may significantly affect us (such as that of residential coordinators), in the larger context of life, it’s not terribly consequential. The Institute and its denizens will survive without any one person’s vote.

So why is the low turnout noteworthy? Not because it’s indicative of a sociopolitical problem; students aren’t apathetic towards everything. Certain issues, such as alcohol policies or the residential coordinator issue, concern and anger many. Some are even passionate about issues that won’t directly affect them, such as Pass/No Record policy and freshmen housing.

Rather, the issue at stake is the future of the “silent majority,” who have opinions and passions, but decide to disenfranchise themselves. This self-disenfranchisement is what is responsible for “insider politics” and the perceived aloofness of politicians, and more dangerously, it allows for a few firebrands to dictate the policies and set the agenda for the entire community. The UA may seem to have little importance to students, but the problems encountered with it will be magnified and exacerbated at the level of local, state, and national politics. It’s a vicious cycle, the seed for which has been sown in this collegiate politics game: discontent with the unresponsiveness of politics keeps people from voting or getting involved, which creates unresponsiveness.

Why volunteer to be a benchwarmer, when the bench is plenty warm and the home team is down 34 points? Or even a screaming fan watching the game from afar, swearing at the players with a remote in one hand and a beer in another? Winners always want the ball when the game’s on the line. Are you a winner?