Per the rules of submitting a budget to the Allocations Committee, a student organization must hold elections for their executive board for the 2020-21 school year. The executive board typically includes the president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, but may also include students serving as co-officers or other positions specific to that organization. While elections denote voters will have a choice between candidates, this is often not the case for student organization elections.
During her three years in the club, Oria Daugherty ’21, president of Greenhouse, explained that it is normal for their group to have uncontested elections, meaning there is only one person to vote for, or only have some positions contested.
“I think it can be challenging to have uncontested elections because it means the leaders of the club may or may not be truly representative of its members,” Daugherty said. She added that “club leaders [often serve] for two to three years in a row, making it difficult to replace them after graduation.”
Grace O’Leary ’20, president of Communications Club, spoke about the nature of uncontested elections and the difficulty in finding students to succeed them.
“I believe that there is a lack of interest from the student body in over- all participation in a lot of clubs and organizations on campus,” O’Leary stated. “Maybe this stems from the overwhelming number of clubs or the academic stress we’re under, but the result is limited participation as underclassmen, and therefore, uncontested elections. David Schulz ’20 (president of Lambda Pi Eta) and I had to reach out to individuals and ask them to run for [our club’s] positions due to this lack of interest. While I know these individuals will do great in this role, a contested election would lead to our club being taken more seriously.”
President of Sexual Respect Coalition (SRC) Miranda James ’20 described how smaller groups on campus inherently have a harder time filling those positions.
“Groups that are smaller or have a smaller dedicated base seem to be more likely to have uncontested elections, though I have seen my share of uncontested elections in larger groups as well,” James said, referencing the College Democrats. “… The number of people who come to [SRC] meetings is actually quite small (usually ten or fewer people). Those who are very interested and involved are also usually those who are deeply involved in multiple activities, which influences how much time they feel they can promise to the group.”
Angie Bos and Bas van Doorn, professors of political science, explained the nature of uncontested elections in the greater world of politics and how that can be applied to clubs at Wooster.
“Uncontested elections are actually quite common at the state and local level,” van Doorn said. “One way to interpret an uncontested race is satisfaction with the incumbent, but lack of competition can be really problematic from an accountability and representation standpoint … Extending this to clubs at Wooster, a lack of competition for these positions could be a problem if those who end up in the positions are unqualified or have plans that may not match the preferences of the larger membership.”
Bos, using her own experience as both a political researcher and a faculty member, had several possible explanations for the lack of competition. One reason could be the lack of reward for those serving in the positions, especially ones that are not the president. She has also seen with faculty positions that people do not want to compete against others. Whether the reason behind that is about insecurity or wanting to keep harmony, students in clubs may not want to force a competition against their peers.
Clubs are not the only ones facing uncontested elections — referencing a Voice article from April 2019 right after both Campus Council (CC) and the Student Government Association (SGA) had their elections, “al- most all of the student government academic year ran in uncontested elections.”
According to that article, only 15 students ran for 20 spots on SGA while four of the nine CC members ran without an opponent. O’Leary, who is also an SGA senator, stated. “I find it concerning that out of 2,000 students, we can only get 15 people interested in representing the student body. To me that means that people are not truly engaged in the community and the issues we face.”
Although having contested elections is what student organizations should strive for, it also depends on the structure and size of each group.
For SRC, their uncontested elections posed less of a threat due to their small size.
“SRC intentionally operates with a more horizontal [executive] board structure with shared responsibilities regardless of position … and we aim to keep most decision making in the larger general assembly meetings so all can be involved,” James said. “This reduces the distance between the board and the rest of the group as well.”
All three student organization leaders had similar sentiments regarding the reasons preventing contested election which revolved more around practicality than a lack of interest. Students at the College are often affiliated with many organizations, including athletics, on top of their academic work. Clubs also tend to be led by those not study- ing abroad, which approximately 40 percent of students engage in. If these students do run, they will run as a tandem further decreasing the level of competition. It is also dependent on a member’s year in school.
“First years often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility and won’t run, and seniors are often busy with I.S. and don’t want to run, so you are left with a bulk of positions being filled by juniors and ambitious sophomores,” Daugherty noted.
Describing the greatest factor of uncontested elections, she stated, “The biggest thing that I think impacts this though is the general size of clubs. The clubs I am in have [approximately] 20 consistent members, if that. Therefore, a full half of the club would have to be interested in leadership to have every position contested. That just isn’t realistic.”