The student government elections at my university are next week, so it's been campaign poster season for the last two weeks. I generally ignore them, since all the candidates are undergrads and the last time I was affected by university policy was last summer when the teaching assistants' union went on strike to end the three years they'd been without a contract.
Today, though, I saw a new poster that gave me pause. It reminded its reader that last fall, the student body had voted to approve construction of a new student union and sports stadium. Four hundred and thirty-seven students had voted for this...out of an undergraduate body of over fifty thousand students. Letting under two percent of students approve a multi-million-dollar project that would add hundreds of dollars per student to future tuition was the opposite of democracy, this poster argued. Vote for the person who wrote me, it boasted, and he will ensure greater oversight in the future.
My first response to this was "you're gonna need that stadium, to get fifty thousand kids into one meeting." Then, "how else would you do it? Email vote? But how many of these students would even read that email, let alone vote?" Probably that same less than two percent. Then I started thinking about low voter turnout in general. Four hundred and thirty-seven is a low enough number to be undemocratic, but a big enough one to make any potential four hundred and thirty-eighth voter worry that their vote doesn't matter. And good intentions count for nothing in either case. I'd decided who I was going to vote for in my state primary. But it came and went, and Hillary won handily, and my absentee ballot never showed up. Would my vote have counted? I can't know for sure. But now it certainly won't.
I could easily turn this into a rant about the transparent racist- and classist-ness of certain states' recently passed voter ID laws. Feel free to do that in the comments. But that's not where my thoughts went on my walk home from office hours today.
Where my thoughts went next was, "Who the hell gives final approval power on a project this big to undergraduates?"
Anyone got an answer to that, let me know.