THEY ONLY come out at night, but they're men and women on a mission. They bend over, crouch or kneel at intervals. They remain oblivious as shadowy figures pass by, en route to Cocke Hall. Through it all, they continue to scribble away furiously. Armed with nothing but boxes of chalk, these industrious worker bees blanket the sidewalks of our fair University. The product of such late-night outings allows hurried students to walk around engrossed in the messages they find in their paths.
Unless you've been bed-ridden for the past two days, you've noticed the colorful smattering of candidate chalkings popping up around Grounds. These messages provide all-important name recognition for those trying to woo your votes. But they shouldn't represent your only source of information as you cast your ballot this week.
While delivering support pleas to University groups, many candidates preface their endorsement solicitation by entreating all those in the audience to "get out and vote." What they mean, of course, is "get out and vote ... for me." In the world of University politics, advocating voter turnout remains quite a PC move. Candidates truly do want us to get out and vote, but they also know we think well of them when they advocate the practice in general, rather than simply groveling for votes.
The propensity to call for maximal voter turnout stems from the yearly crusade by Student Council to silence critics who claim they can't get students to care about University elections. Council draws fire for many perceived lapses in action, but their efforts to inspire student participation in elections usually do meet the appropriate standard. After all, students should care about the elections just by virtue of their membership in the University community. Short of offering incentives to vote, Council only can be successful in their drive to motivate voters if students realize the responsibility they have to the University and its tenets of self-governance.
Of course name recognition plays into any election - this week offers no exception to that rule. Therefore, the chalking bonanza serves a useful purpose, though it represents the least substantive type of campaigning students carry out this week. Even short, five-minute spiels to University organizations offer candidates the opportunity to articulate some sort of platform or plan. But the Web site created by Council (http://www.student.Virginia.EDU/~vote/VoterGuide.html) and the one offered by The Cavalier Daily (http://www.cavalierdaily.com/focus-elections/main.asp) each offer students a much more in-depth look at what the candidates are about.
Taking the time to read what these students have to say about why they're running and why they're qualified seems a hefty time investment in light of looming papers and midterms. If you're up until 3:00 a.m., though, will 3:30 a.m. really make or break you? If you haven't already voted (the polls close tomorrow at 8:00 p.m.), take advantage of the resources you have available before making your election decision. Don't vote for a candidate merely because he or she received an endorsement from the IFC, ISC or The Cavalier Daily. Don't vote for a candidate because your friends say: "Oh, he's a really good friend of mine, and I know he'll do a great job." Bias, anyone?
Taking these elections seriously reflects a commitment to furthering the cause of student self-governance we hold on such a high pedestal. We're all old enough to vote in national elections as we see fit, rather than as our party, parents or friends would dictate. Granted, the next chair of the Honor Committee will have a less global impact than the next president of the United States. But within the University bubble, student leaders make the decisions that most directly affect students' lives. Choosing not to vote in this week's election and, more significantly, choosing to remain an uninformed voter, represents poor judgment from students who, in light of their high intelligence levels, should know better.
Strangely, I feel an even greater compulsion to become an educated voter as a fourth-year student. Maybe it's because I know the decisions I make will have ramifications for others when I'm gone. I'm perhaps even more concerned about choosing the correct candidates this year than ever before, because I don't want to inflict poor leaders on the University I'm leaving behind.
If you haven't voted, do it. If you're not informed, make it happen. It's one thing to decry the unfairness of perceived threats to student self-governance when you actually are participating actively in supporting our student-run systems. It's quite another to do so if you fail to exercise your most accessible means of influence as a member of the University community.
(Amy Startt's column appears Wednesdays in The