Another too-cold spring, another YCC election, another ritualized debate over the meaning of student governance and how best to engage Yale’s oh-so-apathetic electorate.
As prospective candidates hit the dining halls this week rummaging up the 100 signatures they need to declare formally, attention must be paid to the new rules drawn up for this season’s campaign. Specifically, to the new emphasis on digital campaigning, a move that some have called long overdue, and a move that promises to change substantially the nature of the campaign.
The most noticeable change in the rules is the sharply reduced number of posters and table-tents allocated to each candidate. This year, candidates are allowed 50 posters and 100 table-tents, approximately an 80 percent reduction from last year’s race. Pushing the campaign to the Web — Facebook messages, e-mails, Web sites and blogs — could have two effects, beyond being environmentally friendly. First, the campaign could become more issue-oriented, as campaigns put more emphasis on reaching out through media, such as e-mail, that allows for more nuanced messages than slogan-filled posters. And — if a candidate’s Web site could draw traffic — blog posts or updates could link to YaleStation announcements or past News stories on the YCC to better inform the voting public.
But the second possible impact of a digitized election is not potentially as positive. That is, by bringing the election away from hallways and dining halls and onto computer screens, the election becomes increasingly an issue that students pay attention to on their own time (deleting unwanted email in the library when they’re meant to be studying) and not an issue that immediately becomes a topic of conversation when they’re with others (having dinner in their college). Not that students won’t talk about the election, but by putting the focus on individual students making individual decisions to read through an e-mail or check a blog, the YCC risks losing the attention of students who wouldn’t focus on the campaign were it not placed before them when they sit down in their dining hall.
Putting up candidate statements on a Web site accessible before logging on to vote does encourage students to get informed. But before they get informed, they need to get engaged — and more e-mails from “close personal friends” on behalf of candidates will only alienate students.
Other changes, such as a mass meeting at which organizations can determine their endorsements, promise more effective ways of reaching out to segments of the population that may not be already enthusiastic about the YCC, which is, even though it represents all students, is after all an extracurricular organization that only some students choose to make their passion, in the same way that only some students work on the News or volunteer at Dwight Hall or play varsity sports.
The News is not anti-environment — recycle your paper! — but we would like to see more of an emphasis on ways to bring the community together around this upcoming YCC campaign. Maybe table-tents are not the best solution. But neither are more personal e-mails and or campaign Web sites a particularly effective answer to the challenge.