An unopposed candidacy might signify incredible popularity, and a margin of victory of 100 percent. It could also signify a lack of opposition, and of civic engagement. In the worst case, the election may be coerced. James Monroe was elected President of the United States by a margin of 228-1 in 1820; Kim Jong-un was elected President of North Korea by a margin of 687-0 in 2014. From overwhelming approval to coercion, the most recent Student Union (SU) elections fall somewhere in between.
Bitter liberals like to whine about the low democratic turnout in America’s presidential election, but Stuyvesant is much worse, routinely seeing only a minority of the student body vote. This year, the SU and Senior Caucus elections stooped to a new level of apathy, each featuring a single candidacy. Junior Kevin Boodram, who ran for caucus three times in the past, said, “ I don’t think people understand what the Student Union does. I think that discourages a lot people from running in the first place, even voting.” His older brother’s friends told him the SU was only good for planning parties.
Yet the SU organizes perhaps the biggest display of school spirit each year, SING!. The SU’s impressive budget of over $100,000 is what makes clubs and publications possible. And the President and Vice President routinely meet with school administration as the ones advocating for the student body. Perhaps it is time to pay more attention to election season.
If presented with the opportunity to cast a ballot, I surely would have voted for Tahseen Chowdhury and Alexa Valentino for Student Union President and Vice President, as well as for Pallab Saha and Abie Rohrig for Senior Caucus; the problem, however, is that not a single ballot was cast. With the student body’s interests at stake, it is dangerous to have an uncontested—and therefore unelected—official in power (see North Korea).
A more troubling trend, however, seems to be damaging SU elections: the toxic environment surrounding challenges to the incumbent. Most recently, sophomore Abner Kahan faced personal attacks over Facebook for trying to run for positions in the Student Union. “Most people laughed at me and didn’t take me seriously. Some were even slightly hostile,” Kahan said.
Hostility directly discourages students from running. It is hard enough to break into the SU—incumbents have the advantage of knowing the organization’s inner-workings, evidenced by a six-year chain of SU Vice Presidents becoming President. Bullying is not only degrading, but makes the task impossible; Kahan gave up on running for Student Union, and eventually pulled out of the Junior Caucus race—his ideas were effectively silenced.
Boodram added that it is very difficult for candidates to run after suffering a loss. “If you lose a campaign, and you try to do anything after that, people are always going to flame you and say you’re salty or whatever and criticize you for trying to run again,” he said, nodding vigorously when asked if he was bullied. Stuyvesant students are quick to transgress the boundary from debating policies to personal attacks.
SU elections have always been meaningful; now it is time for the student body to treat them professionally. Innovation and competition are crucial to testing ideas and ensuring our Student Union provides us with the best experience they can, but this is only possible if we are open to new ideas and have the confidence that, when we choose to speak out, others will respect our voices.