Kane: Your vote actually matters


Noah Kane, Columnist

Between 2008 and 2012, voter turnout in the U.S. presidential election fell about 3 percentage points to 58 percent, a figure that represents an uninspiring majority of Americans. To be fair, many Americans — particularly people of color — continue to face legal restrictions on their ability to vote; a June 2013 Supreme Court decision allowed states more leeway to enact discriminatory voting policies by circumventing a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Other Americans simply feel that their vote is irrelevant, or have no strong preference between the two major U.S. political parties.

Voter turnout for the Associated Student Government elections at Northwestern is even more dismal. Last year, approximately 20 percent of NU’s undergraduates cast a ballot in the ASG election — totaling about 1,800 students. Those who voted had to undergo the arduous process of opening an online ballot, signing in with their NU NetID and filling out a few multiple-choice questions — an act that likely took no more than five minutes.

In the same year, a similar number of students (more than 1,500) participated in Northwestern University Dance Marathon, a choice that required them to pay a registration fee, raise $400 and dance for 30 hours in an enclosed space so rancid that sweat rained from the ceiling. It’s also worth noting that Dance Marathon recently came under fire for being racially and socioeconomically exclusive because of the implicit and explicit restrictions these requirements place on some NU students.

Why are NU students so unwilling to vote in the ASG election? I don’t have the data to conclusively answer that question, although after four years at this school I can certainly make some educated guesses. But on a practical level, one thing is clear: Every vote actually matters. Voting for an ASG presidential candidate likely has more of an impact on the outcome of the election than any voting decision most NU students will ever face.

ASG’s annual wholesale assault on students’ social media profiles — the campaign period — is in full swing. It’s almost impossible to ignore the fact that the election is happening, and that’s because campaign teams are aware of the simple, mathematical fact that securing the vote of 200 students is the same as capturing more than 10 percent of the electorate. Your newsfeed is spammed because your newsfeed actually matters to candidates.

In 2014, the majority of voters in the ASG election — a disproportionately high amount — were involved in Greek life (in the aggregate, 40 percent of students go Greek). It stands to reason that any community that can reliably mobilize groups of 50 or more people in favor of a particular candidate has high incentives to do so. Greek life is one example, but campus communities long on membership and short on influence in ASG have the potential to issue a powerful mandate for ASG to do something about that lack of influence.

My goal here is not to convince you to vote if you truly do not want to. There are plenty of reasons to be disenchanted with ASG — and this is coming from a former Executive Board member. But understand that if you do choose to vote, your decision will in no small way be reflected in the result.

Five minutes is a short time, and I firmly believe that many of the nearly 7,000 students who did not vote last year had five minutes to spend helping pressure ASG toward being more accountable to the student body. So long as ASG only has to answer to 20 percent of students, criticisms that it does not represent the majority of students will persist — not just because they are valid but because they are empirically verifiable. It’s time we changed that.

Noah Kane is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].