On Wednesday, the Elections Planning and Advisory Committee announced the results of the 2023 undergraduate student elections. Besides the hotly contested elections for senior class president and vice president, the majority of races were either uncompetitive or nonexistent. Only two candidates were running on the ballot for three seats on the Class of 2026 class council, and four out of six Housing Communities did not have a full slate of balloted candidates for their respective class senator positions. Zero students ran for the Committee on Standards or Organizational Adjudication Committee seats, leaving these crucial roles in Dartmouth’s student disciplinary process temporarily undecided while the Elections Planning and Advisory Committee evaluates write-in candidates. Even in elections that managed to secure a full slate of candidates without write-in votes, there was only one contested election other than senior class president and vice president. Student indifference towards undergraduate elections hinders Dartmouth Student Government’s ability to represent the student body properly, and students should put in more of an effort to engage with their governing bodies — by voting in elections at a minimum, and by running for positions themselves if they want to effect positive change.
The lack of student interest continues a concerning electoral trend on campus. Dartmouth students cast 1,231 ballots for the Student Government presidential election — down 15% from last year and 19% from the year before. With 4,458 undergraduates, this means just 27% of students voted. Considering that 75% of the graduating Class of 2022 held a negative view of the administration, and approval ratings for Student Government – then named Student Assembly – were 36% favorable and 34% unfavorable, students clearly want to see both the College and Student Government heading in a different direction. So why do so few students bother to run, much less vote, for the only positions capable of making a difference?
With the low voter turnout and lack of competition, some elections had less than ten votes cast — such as the Class of 2024 senators for East Wheelock, South House and School House. It’s hard to blame students for not wanting to vote; when virtually no elections are contested, it can feel like voting is meaningless. Yet, we want to stress that the lack of student participation in elections can send a risky message. Why should the administration listen to a student government that purportedly represents all students, but can only muster a small percentage of them to cast a ballot? If students continue to demonstrate their disinterest, the Student Government’s authority in the eyes of the administration may plummet.
The potential for higher voter turnout is clear. Dartmouth is as politically involved as any college campus. Our prime position on the presidential campaign trail, our top-notch government department and the scores of students who voice their concerns in this newspaper and elsewhere all foster a vibrant culture of political engagement. Unfortunately, when it comes to our own elections, we waste that potential.
It’s not as though Dartmouth students do not value democracy. After all, the Dartmouth Political Union recently hosted several Democracy Summit events, such as where experts discussed the deterioration of democracy in India and the Jan. 6th insurrection. But it seems far-fetched to believe we can solve the problems of democracies halfway around the world when we don’t even bother to care about our own democratic institutions here on campus.
The past year saw the Dartmouth Student Government achieve several important reforms, including the resumption of Foco Late Night, reinstating universal dorm access, ensuring Wifi is available on the Green and expanding the Campus Connector shuttle system. This year’s newly elected presidential ticket ran on a platform of termly wellness days, further expansion of campus shuttle availability and free laundry. While it is true that there are limits on what Student Government can realistically accomplish for us, all of these are smart and feasible changes that, if enacted, will significantly improve the quality of life for students. Together with Student Government’s hefty annual budget of more than $60,000, there is enormous potential for Dartmouth students to implement the changes we wish to see around campus using the levers of Student Government. But this is only possible if we uphold this important democratic institution by thoroughly engaging in our student elections.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.
Opinion editor Kami Arabian ’24 was not involved in the writing or editing of this editorial due to a conflict of interest.
Correction Appended (April 28, 11:44 a.m.): A previous version of this article stated that approval ratings for Student Government by the graduating Class of 2022 were 36% favorable and 34% unfavorable. At the time the survey was administered to the Class of 2022, Student Government was named Student Assembly. The article has been updated for clarity.