While it’s no secret that Princeton’s community has grown notoriously apathetic toward its Undergraduate Student Government (USG) affairs, the spring ballot’s Referendum No. 3 — which calls on the University administration to halt the use of Caterpillar construction machinery on campus expansion projects — has garnered extraordinary attention inside and out of the Orange Bubble. The question has dominated The Daily Princetonian’s news coverage and opinion pages for weeks, and the student body has shown an uncharacteristic level of engagement in an issue of critical global and humanitarian concern.
Recently, this largely healthy engagement has taken a dark turn, as nefarious outside actors have seized on an objection raised by students who oppose the referendum. The objection centers on some seemingly incorrect information shared by the Chief Elections Manager with opposition campaigners. Now, this broader attention has elevated a mostly campus-wide debate to a national one.
The resulting backlash has been far-reaching, and has disproportionately affected the Chief Elections Manager himself. Social media accounts with huge platforms have attacked him by name and used his image, while other groups have run paid social media advertisements singling him out personally. His phone number has been disseminated externally. Rabid conspirators are baselessly claiming deceit and corruption in various publications, and the USG is being caricatured as a conspiratorial organization.
USG may have made an error, but its members are students who, as a result of their volunteer — and in the case of the elections manager, unelected — positions, have become the victims of a national misinformation campaign by media outlets that are actively seeking to cause personal and professional harm. The Editorial Board explicitly condemns attacks made on members of the student community.
The students fanning the flames in the national media must take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Princeton’s affairs are followed globally and when campus media releases misleading information to score political points, there are serious life-altering consequences. Regardless of their position on the matter, any student with a modicum of decency should staunchly condemn the personal attacks being levied against their peers.
This saga needs to be brought to a conclusion; either the USG should certify the results and release a detailed explanation of how this decision was reached, or a revote must occur to remedy the apparent error.
The USG referendum process can be a vehicle to reflect student thoughts and perspectives, but we have to remember that this is ultimately a non-binding referendum. We don’t begrudge either side for wanting a fair result on a referendum that they’ve devoted a lot of time to campaigning on, but achieving their goals at this point must be weighed against the cost.
The USG must also take steps to prevent this from happening again in the future. The USG should define the rules for referenda with far more clarity, rather than relying on student knowledge of a definition in their constitution’s appendix. The USG should also take steps to insulate its members from such intense backlash. One possible solution is to refer election complaints to a committee of students and Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies staff, rather than pinning them on a single student.
If a revote will end this controversy, we’re fully in support. There may be many ways to end this specific situation fairly, and we won’t weigh in on which one is appropriate. But when our campus is hurting and our peers are being attacked, both the supporters of the referendum and its opposition party have to put their ideological goals aside, come together, and find a solution.
146th Editorial Board
Rooya Rahin ’23
Genrietta Churbanova ’24
Omar Farah ’23
Josiah Gouker ’22
Caitlin Limestahl ’23
Rohit A. Narayanan ’24
Tanvi Nibhanupudi ’23
Isabel Rodrigues ’23