McDaniel’s uncontested candidacy suggests waning interest in Student Council
Chalk on the ground Tuesday morning announced the start of the University’s student election season. Candidates, not permitted to begin campaigning until Monday at 5 p.m., scurried out in droves Monday night to leave their marks.
For many University students, the chalk they see as they walk to class will be the extent of their interactions with the student leaders they elect. Many students will not bother to vote. In last year’s University-wide election, 45 percent of students in the College cast ballots, according to the University Board of Elections. And the College’s turnout was the highest of all the University’s schools.
Voter apathy is one thing. Apathy among potential student leaders is more serious.
Election results will not be announced until March 1, but we know one thing already. Third-year College student Eric McDaniel will be our next Student Council president. We know this because he’s running unopposed.
Registration for the student ballot closed Monday, so no latecomers can declare candidacy. Once McDaniel turns in the 300 petition signatures he needs to appear on the ballot, the presidency is as good as his.
McDaniel is an undeniably impressive candidate, and we applaud his plans to increase Council’s transparency and engagement with the student body. But it is troubling that no one else sought the position. Running for Student Council president is a way to present a vision of what student life at the University can be, and no single vision can represent the needs of all students. McDaniel’s uncontested election suggests waning interest in the University’s ideal of student self-governance and diminishing faith in the possibilities of what Council can accomplish.
Contested elections are valuable for several reasons. The competitive campaign trail forces candidates to think carefully about their positions and goals. Students get the chance to vet would-be leaders as candidates debate, defend their platforms and reach out to constituents through campaign efforts. Though McDaniel has said he will go through the formal endorsement process to meet various organizations, he no longer has an external incentive to campaign, publicize his platform or attract a wide swath of supporters.
And competitive races are about more than quality control. Some candidates may be equally gifted and equally suited to a particular position, but one may better represent a group or set of interests. When it comes to electing representative leaders, choice is valuable.
So why was McDaniel the only student to file candidacy? It is possible that in internal Council discussions McDaniel emerged as an heir apparent, and other contenders shied away. They are free to do so. But was there really no other student with a compelling set of ideas for how to improve the University through Council?
The lack of opposition could also suggest the top leadership positions in Council have become more closed to outsiders. Council is a large organization, and experience specific to the institution would help any presidential hopeful. Still, effective Council presidents can come from multiple areas of the organization, not just the executive board. Committee members who’ve demonstrated innovative thinking and dedication to Council could make a strong bid for the position — and in the past, they have. Mati Wondwosen, for example, finished second in Council’s presidential race last year, running as a member of the Diversity Initiatives Committee.
Alternatively, the uncontested race might signify skepticism with student government or with Council’s reach and abilities. If students don’t believe they can use Council to make a difference, why would they run?
We tip our hats to McDaniel for being the only student to take the plunge. And we hope other students will do more than look at chalk this month. After all, Council’s vice presidential races are hotly contested. Though McDaniel called off his chalking Tuesday, he’ll need a good team in place to make his mark — on Grounds, if not on the ground.