Now that we’ve had two waves of elections, with both the SGA executive members and Class Council members having been elected, we can reflect upon how students viewed the election process as it currently exists.
Some students worry that the SGA elections always turn out to be a popularity contest in which the people matter far more than their policies. Fear not students, they are indeed “popularity contests” but then what election isn’t? Aristotle coined three terms as modes of persuasion that are used, consciously and unconsciously, by both speaker and audience: logos (the speaker’s use of facts), pathos (the speaker’s appeal to passion or emotion) and ethos (the speaker’s character). This is especially true when considering candidates for office.
Ethos always a factor when voting. So yes, the SGA elections are bound to be popularity contests. Best case scenario would be if everyone took logos, pathos and ethos into equal consideration when voting. But with such a small community as we have at ENC, it is only natural for ethos to take precedence. The question should not be whether or not SGA elections are a popularity contest, it should be if that method works.
On one hand, ethos can be a great principle to uphold since it acts as a guideline for the other two sides. If someone starts using logos to delve into a discussion topic, we use ethos to determine if the speaker is someone who typically has credible sources. If someone is trying to use pathos by displaying emotion when regarding a topic or addressing how people should feel about the topic, we use ethos to measure how genuine those emotions are.
Ethos can be a faulty principle to uphold, however, as it requires time and consideration from the audience or voters. In order to truly utilize ethos, one has to be knowledgeable about all candidates. They have to know what they are like, either by having studied candidates or ‘experienced’ them through socialization. Unfortunately, even studying only gives a surface level understanding of a person’s character and that is only if the person in question has not undertaken a recent change of heart in certain areas. How then does ENC handle ethos?
Not well, unfortunately. ENC holds one organized event and one chapel service each year for people to learn about the Executive SGA candidates and their policies. Class council SGA elections only have the candidate flyers which provide a brief description of who they are. The chapel service only allows each candidate two minutes to describe their platform, not nearly enough time for someone who is passionate about seeing change at ENC. The one organized event changes from year to year, so it is difficult to predict exactly what time constraints are in place. For example, at this year’s Veritas-hosted primary election forum, each candidate answered three questions: a prepared question, a facilitator-question, and a question from the audience. Candidates were given one minute to answer to each question posed to them.
Executive SGA president Kyera Bryant feels that the main problem is that there are many students who don’t care about being informed about candidate’s policies. “The people who want to be informed are informed,” says Bryant. She also believes that the responsibility, then, actually falls to SGA. “Communication is difficult on this campus, even though it’s so small, and there are pockets of people who don’t get the information that they need. That is something that SGA has been working on, specifically the Director of Publicity.”
There is also a disadvantage to the system depending on your class. “Being a sophomore, I don’t think I know everybody that well, specifically because I haven’t been here long enough,” says Megan Kindt. “Once you get up into you junior or senior year, you get to know your classmates better and see what they would be good and bad at in certain roles.” Kindt also voices that her prime focus when voting is “do they really care about ENC and…do they care about the people?”
Commuters are especially at a disadvantage. Junior Gabrielle LaPierre says, “I don’t vote because I simply don’t know anything about the candidates and any event where I could learn more about them is too late for any commuter to reasonably get to.” Most commuters don’t use the cafeteria, the best place for socializing and making connects, simply because they don’t have meal plans. “I feel like I would vote if the events were made earlier or I could actually sit with people at meal times and hang out with them,” says LaPierre.
The popularity contest that is SGA elections isn’t working, but how do you fix it? Bryant states that SGA is working on reaching more people with candidate info. “We put certain programs in place during elections to have people informed, but there is always something more that you can do,” says Bryant. If this is the case, I feel that we as the student body need to take some responsibility.
If we want the SGA voting process to not be a popularity contest, we need to get as informed as we can about our candidates. Truly beating the popularity contest is also going require the courage to look some friends in the face and tell them, “I’m sorry I didn’t vote for you, but the other candidate had a better platform.” It’s also going to take patience and grace from the candidates to understand that if their friend says those words to them, they forgive and hopefully ask what they could improve upon for future elections.
If we really want to start taking the SGA elections seriously and for them to not be a popularity contest, it starts with us.