Elections Reveal Apathy

By Ryan Skinner ’19

Herald Staff

This year’s class president elections were defined by a continuing trend of uncompetitive elections, voter disengagement and revealing defects in the electronic ballot. As the vice president of Hobart Student Government, I have made the unusual decision to publicize some limited data from the elections. I believe this is a necessary course of action because only through a shared understanding of how political apathy has become worse over time can we hope to reverse this pernicious trend. The Herald has access only to data on the Hobart class president elections. (Full Disclosure: Ryan Skinner is currently Hobart Student Government Vice President. The Herald did reach out to William Smith Congress, who responsed, but were unable to obtain the participation numbers in time for our print deadline.) William Smith Congress did release numbers

The winners of the class president elections are as follows: Marcel Johnson (Hobart ‘19), Ifuanaya Okeke (William Smith ‘19), Tanner Arnold (Hobart ‘20), Thomas Carroll (Hobart ‘21), Mahdia Ahmed (William Smith ‘21), Michael Bamah (Hobart ‘22), and Nuzhat Wahid (William Smith ‘22). During the class president elections, which took place on September 14, the Classes of 2019, 2020, and 2021 all failed to produce elections with more than one candidate. In the case of the William Smith Class of 2020, not a single candidate could be recruited to run for the position. The upshot is that the Class of 2022 has successfully completed extremely competitive elections. In this election, a 2 percent difference between candidates was literally one vote. Moreover, the existence of this fierce competition drove up the total number of votes to 60 for the Hobart Class of 2022, which was by far the highest turnout of any Hobart class. However, this still represented a decline in voter participation among Hobart first-year students compared to 2017, when 63 students of the Hobart Class of 2021 voted for four candidates, the same number of candidates first-year students could select from during this year’s vote. Likewise, in 2016 a whopping 101 first-year students voted in class president elections, and in 2015 as many as 112 first-year students voted. Both of these Hobart elections featured five candidates.

This disturbing trend of increased student apathy over time is not limited to the first-year classes, but extends to older students as well. This lack of concern for campus politics appears to grow the longer students remain on campus, as demonstrated by the fact that 112 students of the Hobart Class of 2019 voted during their first year in college for five candidates and only 30 voted as seniors with only one candidate on the ballot. Yet this disparity in voter turnout cannot be explained by the number of candidates alone, insofar as 47 students of the Hobart Class of 2019 voted during their sophomore year and 32 voted in their junior year, even though only one candidate was on the ballot in both elections. Over four years, the Hobart Class of 2019 saw a decline in voter turnout during class president elections of more than 73 percent. If this trend holds true for the 60 students who participated in the Hobart Class of 2022 class president elections, then observers should fear that their future turnout may be disastrous.

The class president election for the Hobart Class of 2020 is more difficult to judge in terms of voter turnout due to a serious error in the online voting process. Student Activities designs the electronic ballots through HWS Engage, which can distinguish students by class year. This ensures that when students click on the link of an email from Student Activities inviting them to vote, they will be seamlessly directed to the ballot of their respective class. When I went online to vote for the president of the Hobart Class of 2019, I was alarmed to discover that all seniors, myself included, were permitted to vote in the election for the Class of 2020 in addition to that of the Class of 2019. I immediately went to Student Activities to inform them about this problem. We agreed that the election for the Hobart Class of 2020 needed to be reset in order to prevent the ballot from being tainted by votes from seniors. This was a difficult decision because it invalidated dozens of votes, but it was the only response that would protect the right of voters to a secret ballot. The consequences were severe, as the total number of voters in the Hobart Class of 2020 fell from 44 (inclusive of senior and junior voters) to just 13 votes. This drop in turnout also had a drastic impact on the results, as Tanner Arnold’s margin of victory in his reelection campaign declined from 77.27 percent before the reset to only 53.84 percent after the second ballot had finished. In the future, greater oversight of Student Activities from Hobart Student Government and William Smith Congress may be a necessary check to prevent future quandaries of this sort.

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