OPINIONS

ASSU Elections: A case study

The greatest obstacles our nation faces today are its uninformed electorate and its tendency to allow others to do our research and thinking for us. After witnessing the ASSU Elections last week, I realized campus politics were the perfect case study for these same problems.

First, consider the general ignorance and apathy of the student body with regards to the ASSU system, its officers, initiatives and funding practices (full disclosure: I am totally in this category). How many of us actually know what the Undergraduate Senate does? Who are these guys running for office, anyway? The only one I knew (and voted for) was Anthony Ghosn. The fact is, even when I manage to read up on the candidates, I often wonder how many of their ideas are possible and how many are like the popular middle school campaign pledge to improve school lunches: awesome, but entirely infeasible.

Similarly, national polls confirm on a monthly basis that a shocking percentage of Americans have no idea what is actually going on, whether the question is on which party is in control of Congress, the nature of Obamacare or where Ukraine is located. In spite of this, almost everyone claims to have an opinion, and almost as many vote to influence the system.  The problem is, when we haven’t researched the issues ourselves, we tend to just believe whatever someone else tells us; in other words, we let others cast our vote.

To be clear, I do not mean to question the sincerity or competence of the small core of activists who actually know what they’re talking about – on or off campus. There are always those who have carefully studied the candidates and issues and decided to spread the word. For example, I presume that the leaders of the divestment movement on campus are well informed on both the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing, the role Stanford’s money plays in it and the consequences of the proposed withdrawal of Stanford funds from the industry. But how many of us who voted “yes” or “no” on divestment can claim to have done that kind of homework? I sure as heck can’t.

How about all the hoopla on SAFE Reform? I’m sure we all received a slew of emails filled with various claims and counterclaims on the proposed legislation. It was a classic case of “he said, she said,” and in the end I think we all just kind of decided which group of people we believed more. I authored an investigative piece on SAFE Reform for the Stanford Review, but the contradicting claims still left me confused enough to abstain on the measure.

In any case, I felt silly voting for a bill that I hadn’t even read. Now that would be an interesting poll! How many of those who voted up or down on SAFE Reform actually read the 52-page bill in its entirety? In our defense, I think only those with ample experience with the ASSU funding system would have had much hope of understanding it.

The point is, this kind of uninformed voting may be alright when dealing with small campus issues, but in “real life” we frequently see large groups of people voting based on a few headlines and sound bites they got from FOX News or CNN. How many people could explain the geopolitical considerations of the War on Terror or the financial projections for Obamacare? In short, many are happy to view the world through the eyes of Ed Shultz or Rush Limbaugh and call it a day. Why not? With only limited effort, we can take someone else’s word as scripture and have a ready-made argument to defend our vote.

Democracies are not immune to failure. Indeed, America’s success has traditionally been the exception, not the norm. And it has been our tradition of civic engagement that has consistently made our democracy work. An essential element of democracy is that we take our votes seriously.

Again, I’m not saying you can’t believe everything Wolf Blitzer says. If you really see eye-to-eye with John Stossel on everything, more power to you. I simply submit that if we truly want to see change in our country, we need to care enough to do our own research, verify the facts with multiple sources and vote intelligently.

Contact Josh Jones at jjones5 “at” stanford.edu.

 

About Josh Jones

Josh Jones is a libertarian-leaning columnist for The Stanford Daily and serves as Executive Editor of The Stanford Review. The son of a Marine, Josh has lived in various places around the globe, but usually identifies as a Southern Californian. While he enjoys reading, writing, and exercising, he believes that God and family are the true sources of happiness in his life. He plans to major in Public Policy and attend law school.