Staff Editorial: Questioning referenda

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March 21, 2008

3:12 AM

p. Would you support the wanton destruction of cute, cuddly animals? How about the population control of disease-spreading vermin? Try guessing how people might respond to these questions. Now try guessing what’s wrong with referenda at the College.

p. Words matter. Context matters.

p. While touting College traditions has become a custom in and of itself, we suspect few students swell with pride each year as they vote on a slate of meaningless or biased questions. As in so many previous elections, ballot language determined students’ responses before they even logged in. In theory, direct democracy should prove helpful, but this year’s referenda read more like advertisements for pet projects than legitimate opinion polls.

p. The green fees proposal flirted with the disingenuous, in one case stating the fee would be $15, only later adding that students would pay each semester. On top of this, the wording almost explicitly urged voters to jump on the bandwagon by indicating that, “Colleges all around the country have initiated green fees.” Prodding further, the question enumerated a host of other fees already in place and indicated the requested hike would constitute less than 1 percent of the total charged. That 15 percent of students voted against the proposal surprises us.

p. What should come as no surprise, however, is that the bias in these referenda is so great as to render them meaningless. In fact, any question, no matter the wording, can show up in a planned election if it garners the requisite 250 signatures. Get 500 and it’ll warrant a vote of its own any day of the year. No procedure exists for balancing the language. The Board of Visitors (the group intended to act on these proposals) should no doubt perceive the flaws in that methodology.

p. Students should, too. This campus deserves to know their opinions on its most pressing concerns, but until we legitimize the process for soliciting those opinions, these polls should not influence any policy.

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