As we once again near the annual student election, which decides the 30 or so individuals who are entrusted with the responsibility of a $3.5 million budget (made up of your $199/year student activity fee), I find it necessary to remind you that your vote does matter.
You may not care about the Undergraduate Student Government. Maybe you’re not in any USG-funded clubs, maybe you don’t care about the concerts or Wolfieland, maybe you don’t enjoy the benefits we’ve fought to provide the student body, like 24 hour library. But on principle, you should care about who is entrusted with running the organization that you pay $199 a year for.
Whether you value it or not, your vote does have power. In the last few years’ elections, multiple candidates for executive council positions have won by a margin of fewer than 10 votes. Despite winning by such a small margin, all executive council members and USG senators enjoy tremendous benefits. They are paid above minimum wage in a position with no direct supervisor, they enjoy campus-wide recognition as the highest representatives of the student body and (because they become officers of a $3.5 million non-profit organization before the age of 23) it’s one of the best resume boosters an undergraduate student can get. When someone runs for one of these positions, more often than not they will say anything necessary to get it.
Candidates think about how critical your vote is when they approach you in dining halls, hallways, classrooms and club meetings. Your vote is priceless to them – they know it can be the difference between winning and losing. At the moment they approach you, they want your vote more than anything else you could possibly have to offer them. It is where your meaningfulness as a human being begins and ends for them. Earning it should not be as simple as handing you a quarter sheet or giving you a 40 second pitch full of empty platitudes and false promises, especially since most candidates will never be seen out speaking to students or pretending that they care once the election is over.
It should be hard to win your vote. You are intelligent, rational and a critical thinker. Despite this, in every election, without fail, some candidates will take to their platforms and make pandering and impossible promises, hoping that you won’t be smart enough to do two minutes of research and inform your vote.
I wish I were exaggerating when I say that there has been at least one candidate promising to “push for air conditioning in all residence halls” in every single election during my time at Stony Brook, when it is a logistical impossibility that air conditioning be installed in every residence hall. In other recent elections, candidates have promised to bring a Chipotle Mexican Grill to campus, reduce the cost of textbooks, prevent professors from assigning textbooks of their own writing, strengthen students’ abilities to get full time jobs after graduation (like we don’t have a career center) and even get rid of the “wind tunnel effect” between the library and the Chemistry Building (I really do wish I were joking).
Hollow and impossible promises like these actively disrespect your intelligence and reduce the value of dialogue in the election. They appeal to those who don’t know anything about USG and don’t care, so when these promises go unfulfilled, there’s no backlash and no accountability. Future candidates then see that it is acceptable to lie to and manipulate their fellow students, and the cycle begins again the next year.
I implore all students who decide to fill out a ballot this month to respect their vote and understand its power. Spend a few minutes looking over the USG website if you aren’t familiar with its mission. Read election guides and candidates’ platform statements and question each one for its feasibility.
Most importantly, talk to the candidates themselves. One is likely to approach you at some point over the 2-3 weeks of the election process, but if they don’t, you can normally find a few of them in the SAC lobby at any time during the day. Grill them. Ask them what makes them qualified and why they deserve your vote. If their platform and ideas are unrealistic, call them out on it and ask them to outline their non-existent plan to achieve their impossible goals. If they’ve already been in USG, ask them what they accomplished during their first term that makes them deserving of a second one, then ask them why they didn’t accomplish the goals in their current platform during their first term when they had the chance to do so.
If questioning a candidate makes them uncomfortable, good. Having been in USG for two years, I know that the stress and discomfort of campaigning is nothing compared to the actual challenges of the job. The ideal USG candidate will be excited at the opportunity to have their ideas challenged. Any candidate who avoids criticism or questioning is doing you a favor: they’re showing you that they don’t respect their own ideas enough to deserve your vote for them.
You deserve a qualified and capable student government – you pay $99 for it every semester. Your vote is the only thing you have to ensure USG works. Don’t let anyone trick you out of it.