A vote in this year’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Winter Election will not have a substantial effect on the undergraduates’ experiences at Princeton. The lackluster similarities between the candidates’ platforms and the high proportion of uncontested elections render the outcome of this election almost certainly inconsequential. Therefore, in a break from tradition, this Board refrains from endorsing a candidate in the USG presidential election.
An examination of the presidential candidates’ platforms reveals little disagreement. All three candidates’ proposals are beneficial, and all of the policies enjoy support among students. How can anyone argue against platitudes such as “strengthening career services,” “combating sexual misconduct,” or “increasing unity”? The candidates have not distinguished their positions from those of their opponents. Consequently, it is reasonable to suppose that the candidates support their opponents’ positions.
Because none of the candidates’ platforms contend with one another, there is little for students to evaluate candidates’ qualifications. Our peers recognize this fact: Only 15 students, of the 5,260 undergraduates at the University, attended the candidates’ debate on Nov. 29. Even generous amounts of free pizza couldn’t elicit a higher turnout.
Six out of the 10 USG elections are not contested. While 15 candidates are running to represent the Class of 2022 as a senator, only three contest the two Class of 2021 senator positions, and the election is uncontested for the Class of 2020. This trend bespeaks a student body that becomes more cynical the longer it stays at the University — understandably so.
Furthermore, that most down-ballot races are uncontested impedes USG’s ability to govern. When students are elected without opposition — or even appointed by the president because no one ran for the position — the elected or chosen student is less likely to be the most suitable person for the job, since they were not pushed through competition to hone their ideas. Admittedly, a contested election is not necessarily competitive in this sense, hence our previous criticisms. Without competitive down-ballot elections to elevate the quality of elected officials, USG’s ability to improve student life or effectively modify its policies is handicapped.
This editorial is not an attack on current or aspiring members of USG. Rather, we hope to draw the community’s attention to the systemic failings of USG’s elections and to encourage earnest students to reform the system.
The Board affirms that the issues raised by the candidates — making menstrual products available, improving academic advising, and launching mental health initiatives, among others — are critical. It is the lack of debate and disagreement over unique positions that we lament.
In recognition of its members’ divergent views, this Board will not disclose at this time its opinion on the proactive steps required to reform USG. The Board’s members support various suggestions, from expanding USG’s powers to abolishing the organization. Princeton’s students must begin a debate over the nature of reforms they desire. The Board unanimously agrees, however, that USG needs reform to ensure that the elections presented to students are consequential.
Marcia Brown ’19
Emily Erdos ’19
Samuel Aftel ’20
Isabel Hsu ’19
Jon Ort ’21
Samuel Parsons ’19
Sebastian Quiroz ’20
Cy Watsky ’21