As the number of students seeking elected office in the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) continues to decline, current ASSU officers have expressed concern about the trend’s significance for the future of Stanford’s student government.
Only 16 students have declared their intent to run for the Undergraduate Senate (UGS), and none have declared intent to run for the Graduate Student Council (GSC) with just five days left before the March 1 declaration deadline. One slate has declared for senior class presidents, and no slates have declared for any of the other class president positions.
On Sunday evening, the first serious slate, Billy Gallagher ’14 and Dan Ashton ’14, declared for the ASSU Executive.
Gallagher, a former Daily editor in chief, said that he decided to run after witnessing the strong reactions to his farewell editorial and Miles Unterreiner ’12 M.A. ’13’s long-form article on Suites Dining. Gallagher said that, if elected, he and Ashton would work on making sure that the administration takes student feedback seriously when making decisions.
“There are so many people who deeply care about Stanford and about the community, but they don’t necessarily feel like they can make a big impact, or they don’t feel like administrators will listen to them,” Gallagher said. “I think everybody saw that students are upset and want to fight for things they care about, but they don’t know what’s the most effective way to have their voices heard.”
Though Gallagher is currently a Daily staffer, he said he would give up the position if elected.
Lack of interest
This year’s candidate numbers represent a drastic decline from previous election years. In 2008, there were six Executive slates, six class president slates, 39 Senate candidates and 19 GSC candidates.
Assistant ASSU Financial Manager Stephen Trusheim ’13 M.S. ’14, who served as ASSU Elections Commissioner in 2011, said that the number of candidates running for office has decreased every year during his time at Stanford.
According to Trusheim, campaigns have also become less contentious, with the exception of last year’s Executive race.
“For the most part, the other campaigns are kind of relaxed, and I think that’s probably a good thing,” he said. “It does show that perhaps there’s not a lot of really passionate, dedicated people wanting to spend their time on, let’s say, the Senate versus their own student organizations.”
Trusheim said that low candidate numbers pose a particularly significant problem for the GSC, even though GSC candidates are not required to collect petition signatures in order to run. According to Elections Commissioner Brianna Pang ’13, this policy was enacted to encourage more graduate students to run for the GSC.
“I think [GSC members] don’t do a very good job of reaching out to their populations,” Trusheim said. “If a single candidate doesn’t do a good job but for some reason there is no one else voted onto the job at the GSC, they totally lose touch with that population and it’s a downward spiral.”
In the three ASSU elections Trusheim has witnessed, there have never been enough candidates to fill the GSC. If too few candidates declare to run for the GSC, current members can suggest other students to fill the position, and the GSC votes whether or not to accept the nomination.
Roshan Shankar M.S. ’13 M.P.A. ’14, the current GSC secretary, said that last year’s elections were disappointingly uncompetitive, particularly for the district representative positions. Shankar said that lower candidate numbers have resulted in less passionate campaigns and decreased visibility for the GSC.
“For last year, if you contested and you were representing a separate group, you were basically guaranteed your spot,” he said. “When I ran, no one did a campaign. The slates were put up, we had our statements and people who were interested enough read it and voted for you.”
Shankar said that he was also concerned with declining voter turnout for GSC elections. Only 1,047 graduate students voted in last year’s election, a 29.1 percent decline from the 2011 voter number and an almost 50 percent decrease from the 2,053 graduate students who voted in 2010.
According to Shankar, the GSC might attract fewer candidates because graduate students are more likely to seek off-campus positions and often have other priorities, such as doing research or finishing a dissertation. Shankar said that he believes the Undergraduate Senate has been more successful in inspiring competitive elections.
However, Senator Viraj Bindra ’15 said that he believes low candidate numbers are also a problem for the Senate, adding that he would have liked to see more candidates run for Senate last year.
“If I’m being entirely honest, I would not have voted for myself in my current form back then, and I think a large part of that is due to the fact that there were not enough serious and aware candidates for Senate,” Bindra said. “A lot of my platform, especially in retrospect, was very buzzworthy without a lot of substance to it.”
Bindra said that he believes the Senate could benefit from candidates with strong ideas and more experience with the ASSU, and said that the ideal Senate would have five sophomores, five juniors and five seniors.
“I do think that the ASSU could be much stronger and could operate much more effectively if there were more people running, if there was more of a choice,” he said. “I would have liked to see a stronger batch of candidates run.”
ASSU President Robbie Zimbroff ’12 M.A. ’13 and Vice President William Wagstaff ’12 M.A.’13 said that they were not particularly concerned by lower voter turnout, but were somewhat troubled by decreasing candidate numbers.
“At a certain point, you have to get people to run,” Zimbroff said. “If there are eight Senate candidates and one Exec slate, you would like to have a bigger pool than that.”
Wagstaff agreed, adding that he believes some potential candidates are discouraged from running because they are not “student government types.”
“Being in this position helped me realize that there are different pockets on campus, and people do different things,” he said. “As long as you are a regular kid, I think you can be helpful.”