On the last day of the 2013 Student Government elections, a screenshot image of an email circulated Facebook. The subject line read, “Greeks in SG Elections ’13,” and the author — the president of the Interfraternity Council — listed candidates “that the executive board selected.” The message included no justifications for the endorsements, aside from the Greek organization to which the candidate belonged and his or her major. IFC sent the email to almost all fraternity members at the University. All but two of their endorsed candidates won.
Endorsing a candidate — that is, telling someone to cast his or her vote for your chosen candidate — is tricky territory. Newspapers have a longstanding tradition of endorsing candidates in elections through endorsement editorials, which has been the subject of much debate. On the one hand, our news media is supposed to offer a balanced, honest presentation of the facts, free from bias or agenda. On the other hand, the average American citizen probably doesn’t seek or receive enough information to cast an informed, educated vote. Media endorsements serve as the newspaper’s flimsy reconciliation to that dilemma, by announcing and justifying their opinion of the ideal candidate.
But that debate doesn’t quite extend to the IFC’s yearly endorsement. Offering a reasoned explanation for a particular vote is distinct from encouraging members to exercise their democratic rights, then casting their ballots for them.
This year, Connie Tao and Ryan Upchurch, candidates for student body president and vice president, campaigned to specifically reach students who didn’t normally vote in student body elections. That’s a significant demographic: Less than 15 percent of UT students voted in the SG election last week. Tao and Upchurch originally posted the email to their Facebook page. They claimed, “This may be within the rules, but no other candidate has the power to reach 14 percent of the student body in one message,” and characterized the lack of platform explanation as a request to follow blindly.
“You feel like your vote doesn’t really matter,” Tao said in the week following the election. “No matter how hard you try to push for a candidate, if they have a network that hits 14 percent of students and they all vote in a block, 90 percent of votes, you’re guaranteed to make that email the election results.”
Tao suggests amending UT’s election code to prevent against further instances of blind endorsements. For example, at UT-San Antonio, candidates can’t use university mail services (like listservs) to contact voters en masse.
But preventing organizations from endorsing candidates altogether is impossible and unnecessary. If one executive board is charged with directing the votes of thousands of students, they should at the very least explain their choices. Even better, the IFC could provide information to Greek students on all candidates’ platforms and trust them to make their own decisions.
In all likelihood, though, IFC will continue to operate as they have in years past, because empirically those endorsement emails have controlled elections.
UT students still have recourse, though: Vote. The students who don’t receive IFC emails vastly outnumber those who do, and the Greek community controls the elections because the rest of us let them.
Admittedly, this is not some life-or-death situation. Regardless of which students are elected to office, UT policy will remain largely the same. Our Student Government elections are certainly not some important microcosm of how politics operates outside our University’s bubble. However, if what starts here really does change the world, we should all be worried that the wealthiest organizations on campus control our elections while the majority of us passively observe.
San Luis is a women’s and gender studies and English senior from Buda.