Updated 11:03 p.m. Nov. 17, 2013
Recently, the Undergraduate Student Government announced the candidates running in its upcoming 2013 elections. Several of these candidates, initially including those running for President and Vice President, are running in uncontested elections. Because of a special decision by the USG senate, however, this year’s presidential election will be contested. Uncontested elections are not a new problem for the USG. The Editorial Board believes that uncontested elections, especially those for the highest positions in the Student Government, limit the diversity of opinion in the USG and ultimately prevent accurate representation of the University community. We are thus encouraged by the fact that this year’s presidential election will be contested. In order to decrease the number of unopposed elections in future years, the Board suggests that the administration give the USG a more legitimate role in University decision making and that the USG change the way it reaches out to students.
Uncontested elections could be the unfortunate consequence of the University’s relationship with their student government. It may be that the University has not given the USG enough power to make meaningful changes to the campus community. While the Student Government can suggest changes, the University reserves the right to ignore or even act against these recommendations. Further, the University’s lack of recognition of the USG’s efforts could additionally make a student government tenure a less rewarding experience than it could be, discouraging students from running for these positions. While it is impossible to tell if these factors are directly causing the uncontested elections, this much is clear: the University should be concerned that its students do not want be a part of its student government.
One possible way to encourage more people to run is by reaching out to student leaders around campus. While emails sent out to the entire undergraduate student body are an effective way to cast a wide net, they are not likely to convince people to run. Contacting specific students because of their experience would have the effect of encouraging individuals to run who may have not considered it. Such students may not know that their experience would be a valuable addition to the USG and would thus not be willing to run unless specifically contacted. Further, the USG has several committees and positions that could be uniquely served by the input of students with leadership experience in a variety of student groups. The Board particularly hopes that the USG might reach out to leaders of student groups that are traditionally underrepresented in student government—student athletes being just one example of a group that may merit more targeted outreach.
This is not to say that specific individuals on campus should be tapped for positions; rather, targeted outreach should be used encourage students to apply for committees or run for Senator or U-Councilor. This would give these students the experience needed to run for President or Vice President later on, thereby increasing the probability that elections are contested. Competitive elections serve as dialogues in which issues and solutions are openly discussed and thus serve to improve our Princeton experiences. Increasing and diversifying student involvement at the lower levels of the USG would not only make it more likely that fewer elections in the future are like this year’s, but would also make the organization more representative of the student body.
The Board believes that uncontested elections are a major issue that both the University administration and the student government must work to address. Balancing the relationships between the University and its student government and targeting outreach efforts are simply proposals that may promote competitive elections. What is clear, though, is that the University administration, the USG, or both bodies, need to take steps in order to decrease the likelihood of future unopposed elections.
Editor's note:A version of this editorial was published before the USG announced that Zach Ogle '15 will in fact be allowed to run against incumbent Shawon Jackson '15 for president. This article has been updated to reflect this fact.