Why Voting Matters

There’s an old saying in politics: Laws are like sausages — no one wants to see how they’re made. Most American citizens want their roads plowed, mail delivered and bridges kept structurally sound. Yet, less than half actually show up to vote during the presidential elections every four years. That number drops dramatically for the state and local elections in which most legislation is actually passed. The candidates in many elections for crucial senate seats run unopposed as both they and their district have lost any of their original inspiration for change. The fact is that people don’t care about the government that creates and sustains the institutions we need in our daily lives. Any political science student worth their salt knows this — so why is The Amherst Student talking about it?

Voter apathy might seem like a remote phenomenon only affecting the politically ignorant, but it’s alive and well even on this campus. If you actually check the all-campus emails from the AAS (which many of us admittedly do not), you’ll know the executive board elections for the 2015-2016 academic year happened last Thursday. Firstly, despite the massive boost in diversity in the past three years, the supposedly representative AAS e-board fell backwards this year with a mostly white and entirely male slate of candidates. The election for treasurer, better known as the person who manages and doles out one million dollars of student money a year, was uncontested this year. The secretary (who, among other duties, organizes all the AAS vans) and judiciary chair races also saw only one candidate each.

The closest election, the vice presidential race, was won by more than 13 percentage points. Just under 7 percent of votes for that race went to write-in candidates, presumably because voting students didn’t take the time to find out about either candidate on the actual ballot. Finally, the one incumbent candidate, Tomi Williams, won the presidential election by a huge margin. Yet, though the AAS president is a representative for every single Amherst student, fewer than 400 voted for him, with fewer than 450 students voting in that election overall. Last year, the first round of elections for the four presidential candidates easily broke 700 votes (although that’s still not incredible turnout for a voting pool of around 1,300). From looking at the numbers, it’s clear that not many of us really cared that there was an election last week.

Walking around campus, it was practically impossible to tell there was an election going on, save a few scattered posters. Hardly anyone was looking at candidates’ platforms or talking to them about their points of view. Last year’s election captured the campus’ attention. This time around, many students didn’t meet even the people running. Confused by who the candidates were and what they stood for, they just didn’t bother to vote. To put it in perspective, there were no Muckrake articles written about the e-board election this year.

The election that will define our leaders for the next year slipped by while hardly anyone noticed and fewer cared. At the end of the day, the AAS only has power to create change or perform its basic administrative functions because of a student mandate.