Opinion, Staff Editorial

Student Government should improve efficacy through education

It was no surprise U First won Student Government elections Feb. 15 – but to call this a “landslide” would be misleading. Nobody else wanted the job.

And therein lies the problem. A lack of education and perceived voter efficacy contributes to a system in which change seems hard to effect.

It’s not U First’s fault that it ran essentially unopposed. While another ticket, We Got You, was on the ballot, it didn’t want to be. It was simply too late to drop out officially.

The winning ticket’s initiatives are promising, if hard to guarantee. Some are carried over from past tickets – last year’s Unlimited ticket, for example, had similar plans to subsidize Uber rides around campus. Others are vague. But in any case, students should have been able to vote for those initiatives, if they so chose, instead of coming to them by way of a de-facto default decision.

Stricter election guidelines can help with this. A short registration process makes it easy for students to decide to run, or not run, on a whim.

Had registration begun before winter break, students would have the time off to mull over their platform and desire to participate. Extending registration would extend the campaign period, too. As is, students must decide to run, campaign and (with luck) win within the span of a month. With the pressures of a new semester looming over students’ heads, too, the blink-and-you-miss-it election process is asking a lot of candidates and the electorate.

This year’s winners, and past candidates, proudly tout their experience in Student Government. It makes sense – if you spend a lot of time in an organization, you aspire to its highest positions. That’s not a bad thing. But a problem arises when students outside of Student Government are not aware of the election timetable, or don’t believe they can win.

In January, junior Luis Goberna, elections commission chairman, told The Miami Hurricane that the election was “a very open process,” in which “most students would be eligible for Senate, and nearly every student is eligible for president, vice president and treasurer.”

The system is accessible on paper, which is a start. More education would help students know when to run, when to vote and how to do both. A freshman course in Student Government, much like the required courses in alcohol education and bystander intervention, could make students more invested in SG. Even something as simple as an elections briefing via email at the end of fall semester could help clarify the process. This semester, for example, students got emails reminding them to vote but none explaining what seats were open or how to register. That might have boosted student participation to include those coming from outside the program.

Sometimes, Student Government can feel a little like make-believe. We go to a private institution where chances to change the way things work are, by nature, limited. But if it’s all a fantasy, shouldn’t it at least be a good one? An idyllic, best-case-scenario world where students campaign and more than one party is willing to go the distance?

It’s easy to attribute low participation to apathy alone, but students will get involved – they just need to know how. And if they vote here, they might just continue it in the real world, establishing a habit which, in and of itself, legitimizes the role of Student Government.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.

February 16, 2018

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.