Since last spring, there has been no shortage of criticism for College Council and the low voter turnout in recent years. Last year, participation was at an abysmal 39 percent–a figure that, while looking back at the three previous elections, seems rather remarkable. In the 2011, 2012, and 2013 elections, voter turnout rates were 65 percent, 59 percent, and 64 percent, respectively. When comparing these numbers to last year’s outcome, the sudden drop does not appear to follow a pattern of decreasing participation.
However, a closer look at another important statistic might be able to better explain why last year’s numbers are indicative of a poor system of student representation rather than an atypical year for College Council. In leafing through archives of The Record for any voting patterns, the margin of victory between those running for CC President caught my eye. In the past eight years (I stopped at eight years back because that was the last time there was an uncontested election, and those bound copies in the library are rather heavy) only two elections saw results that could be considered closely contested. The other six years saw elections where the victorious pair saw an overwhelmingly large majority vote.
On the surface it may seem reasonable to view a wide margin of victory for leadership as a demonstration of general campus agreement, but when this is the established norm for so many years, the interpretation of agreement should shift to one of blatant expectation. The narrative behind these elections has shown that there is almost no use in running when the winners are easily predicted. A concern of mine (one that I know is not unique to me) is that people who run for College Council are just that–members of College Council. It’s what they do on campus. It’s who they are. From early on it appears that certain members of the community are vetted for CC leadership (insert tinfoil Gargoyle Society conspiracy theory here) and last year’s uncontested election just happened to be the first time it made itself obvious. No one wanted to bother running for an election that was already decided. And before the pitchforks and torches come out in full-force, by no means am I ignoring the fact that plenty of CC members are a part of many other clubs and organizations; I’m only suggesting that perhaps what defines certain representatives more is their membership on CC as opposed to other groups on campus.
College Council is not an accurate representation of the student body, and though their website claims that CC “is responsible for being the voice of the student body to the Administration,” there exists a significantly widespread belief among certain students that CC is no more than the Financial Aid Office to the clubs and organizations at Williams. Students have found other venues to facilitate meaningful change to the school such as RASAN or any of the MinCo groups. This by no means is a new critique of CC either. As far back as the last uncontested election in 2006, belief that CC was not an adequate medium for progress on campus was voiced by Ainsley O’Connell ’06 in an article for The Record. She writes, “As College Council’s power has waned, students motivated to effect change on campus have learned to do so through independent action.”
There is no hiding that CC has lost its support from the general student body. While writing this article, the most recent CC election results have been released, and they tell the same story of little student interest. The class of 2015 had the lowest voter turnout with about 19 percent, and we now have CC reps that represent a whopping eight (8!) students on campus. I don’t know where CC goes from here, and there is a lot of criticism out there. College Council claims to be the voice of the student body, but the problem remains that that very student body’s voice has been shouting “we don’t care!” for years.