Snyder: GSB losing relevance


Editorials, columns and cartoons.

Stephen Snyder

Now that GSB — soon to be known as Student Government — elections have ended, we have a clear view of how student leadership will look next year. Well, at least those few of us who voted or took a look at the election results will know.

When the results were made public on Friday night, I, like almost everyone else, was at home not caring in the slightest about GSB. Then, as I was watching a basketball game, I received several enthusiastic text messages from coworkers calling me “Senator Snyder” and congratulating me on winning the Frederiksen Court seat in the Senate.

A little context: On Tuesday, March 3, I voted for GSB — as only 4,152 other students did during the two-day election period according to statistics released by GSB— and noticed that no candidate had stepped forward to campaign for either of the Frederiksen Court seats. Not one to leave a ballot unmarked, I wrote myself in for the position. At that point, from that somewhat innocuous decision, came an idea and I thought to myself, “I could win this thing.” I then spent five minutes “campaigning” in my place of work and calling a couple of my friends, asking any of them who are Frederiksen Court residents to write me in as well. The intent was never to become a senator, bur rather I wanted to win for the sole purpose of writing this column.

My plan was to win, but also receive no more than 10 or 15 votes hoping to thereby prove that the elections are meaningless because no one votes. On Friday night, I learned that my scheme was successful and actually worked out even better than I could have imagined. I won the Senate seat by receiving three votes.

Count along with me: one, two, three votes.

Frederiksen Court is made up of 29 buildings and according to the Department of Residence, there are 2,712 beds — equaling the maximum capacity — in Frederiksen Court. Seeing as how I received three votes, my election is based on the decision of 0.138 percent of the eligible voters from my election district.

How could anyone possibly argue that I have a legitimate right to govern when significantly less than one percent of my “constituents” made the decision? For the presidential election, assuming that every one of the 4,153 voted for president (GSB published statistics actually calculated that only 4,082 students did vote for president), then that means only 12.8 percent of students voted. The winning party, congratulations, received 2,754 total votes and that total comes to, as the Office of the Registrar lists the Spring enrollment for 2015 at 32,794, a little more than eight percent of the student population.

Several elections from other voting districts had similarly unimpressive results. The College of Veterinary Medicine had a tie with one vote. The College of Design senator-elect received three votes. Graduate College senator? Eleven votes. Even in races that were more heavily voted upon, there was extremely little competition, as all members who received significant vote totals won because their Senate positions allowed for multiple seats. There was actually only one poor soul — outside of the presidential race — who received more than 200 votes and didn’t win a Senate seat.

While voting totals are no longer frequently much higher than 50 percent even at the Federal government levels, these figures are disheartening for Iowa State. This is not the fault of the candidates, but it does represent an overall disinterest in the student political system.

During election time and really throughout the rest of the year, GSB is not solely to blame for the lack of student interest. However, for the organization to be considered legitimate, I believe it must generate a larger rate of student involvement.

The low voting rate is not a representation of the extremely relevant work that GSB performs. Our representatives are responsible for allocating $2 million of student money for different events and student organizations. Student participation in elections absolutely must represent the full, clearly spoken voice of the student body, and getting less than 10 percent of students to vote for the winning presidential candidates does not equal a clear statement.

The new administration of Breitbarth and Sweere must make student engagement and community outreach a priority to bring heightened awareness to the work they are trying to accomplish on behalf of the students. This year two of GSB’s most significant successes were working to combat overcrowding in the testing centers during Finals Week and congestion on CyRide. Those two things don’t just happen — GSB fought for them and did us all a service.

Regardless, I have declined my position, though I will still encourage my co-workers here at the Iowa State Daily to call me “Senator,” as a member of GSB for two reasons. First, I only ran to prove a point about the general irrelevance of student government in the eyes of ISU students. Second, if I actually believed that I am justified in being a senator because three people, my own vote included, put me there, then I’d be a bigger joke than the total GSB voter turnout.

Those who prompted me to accept the position offered reasoning along the lines of “it might look good on a résumé” or “law schools might like to see leadership experience” and honestly, they were probably right. However, people who seek these positions strictly as a résumé building experience — and I am pointing out no specific candidates — have no right to govern.

I would hope that every elected individual who subsequently accepted their position ran with the intent to create a better university and bring real ideas for progress along with them.