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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

MCSG needs quorum for elections

MCSG needs quorum for elections

 In the last year, I have noticed issues with low voter turnout in Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) elections that point to damning structural issues with the organization. Elections can be won with a miniscule amount of eligible voters, which damages MCSG’s appearance as a legitimate and democratic organization representing students. Based on two particularly egregious cases of low-voter turnout, I propose adapting an electoral system that requires a 20% quorum for election results to be valid. 

In the election for a 2024 class representative, a total of 18 votes were cast. While this is alarming, it’s not surprising given there was not a single candidate running, which undoubtedly demotivated voters. What is far more concerning, is that a write-in candidate with only six votes won the election for the class of 2024 representative. These six votes represent a bit more than 1% of the class of 2024. Moreover, they did not even get a majority of the votes cast; rather, they got a mere 33% of all votes. It’s unclear if this candidate was even elected seriously, or if perhaps the write-ins were just a joke by well-meaning friends. 

My intention here is to not call out this particular person, only the electoral system that allowed this to happen. The idea that someone can be a representative with such a miniscule amount of support represents a threat to MCSG as a legitimate tool for student advocacy. I question whether it is practical or possible for someone with 1% support amongst the students that they represent to be a successful advocate for their constituents.

Obviously, real-life elections also have issues with turnout. This problem is not unique to MCSG. However, elections where less than 10% of eligible voters participate are concerning enough that MCSG should take bigger steps to address the problem of low turnout. The current situation damages MCSG’s image as a democratic body, as it seems that with even just six friends, an election is in anyone’s grasp. Instead of feeling like a part of the school that students should care about and participate in, MCSG feels disconnected from the students it is supposed to represent because so few students are engaged with the organization.

Even though MCSG has attempted reforms, these reforms unfortunately only serve to further exacerbate the problems that MCSG as an organization has. Last spring, MCSG had an election to amend their constitution. This appears like the sort of move that would require large-scale outreach and hopefully high voter turnout. Instead, only 5% of the student body voted; 118 students voted in the approval process for one of the amendments and 120 in the election to approve the other amendment. Considering the size of MCSG, very few constituents not actively involved in MCSG even voted at all in this election. I remember that there were efforts to reach out to the community during this period of constitutional reform, but the election results demonstrated that the results of those efforts were obviously insufficient.

The results of this election for constitutional amendments were luckily mundane: the student services and relations committee was dissolved and replaced with a cabinet, and a communication and engagement committee was created. But regardless, just like winning an election with only six votes, it’s concerning that the MCSG’s constitution can be changed with just 5% of students approving it.

I am surprised that some level of quorum is not already required for constitutional change to begin with, as the current system allows constitutional changes to be pushed through without much oversight or community-wide approval. This could mean future constitutional amendments, that aren’t properly workshopped or thought-out, could be easily passed and end up providing headaches for future members of MCSG. Moreover, an organization where the constitution was not approved by the voters puts into question whether or not the body even has the consent of the governed or a legitimate claim to governance.

The solution for this problem of low voter turnout elections is to require a quorum of eligible voters for election results to be valid. While this may seem impractical considering how small Macalester is, I think it would be reasonable to require 20% of eligible voters for an election to be valid. Some MCSG elections already do get a 20% quorum, such as the recent special election for 2027 class representative which received 282 votes. And, while the quorum may at first require recentering the activities of MCSG to primarily be based on reaching out to students and encouraging participation, I think this is actually exactly what MCSG should be working on.

I don’t think a student government can consider themselves representative of the student body if they cannot get 20% of constituents interested and engaged in an election that will take at most 10 minutes of a voter’s time to participate. There is interest within the student body, but there just needs to be a more active effort in igniting and maintaining it. Efforts to limit the number of special elections and assure that current legislative body members do not suffer from burn-out would surely augment the success of requiring a 20% quorum, as voter fatigue clearly is one of the issues at hand. I hope current and previous representatives can voice their suggestions for making MCSG a more doable position, as reducing burn-out in MCSG would help avoid the excessive special elections that can cause so much voter fatigue.

Finally, to encourage high voter turnout, MCSG needs to put more effort into educating students about what MCSG can do and what they have done. I myself struggle to remember concrete positive changes that MCSG has taken in my past four years, and I assume others are in the same situation as me. If MCSG can present themselves as a legislative body that can and has enacted change, students will be far more eager to vote in elections. I hope my suggestions as a concerned constituent are considered by MCSG, as I want to be clear that I am not writing this with any hostility towards MCSG, rather I believe Macalester students deserve a student government that can represent and advocate them, and, given time and effort, MCSG can be exactly that.


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  • R

    Rebecca G '23Feb 25, 2024 at 10:15 am

    As someone who was extensively involved in MCSG for 3 of my 4 years at Mac, I welcome and share the author’s concerns – even as I metaphorically bang my head against the wall. MCSG has long struggled to garner interest from the student body. Speaking from my experience between 2019 and 2022, it was something MCSG was painfully aware of and worried about. In those years, our discussions, ideas, and efforts to improve student engagement felt endless and excruciatingly fruitless. I wish Mac students were more interested in student government.

    I suppose my point is this: please know that your MCSG reps know about low engagement; really, really want to address it; and are very much trying.

  • J

    Joel SFeb 17, 2024 at 3:41 pm

    Elected MCSG members are unpaid. It’s a challenge to figure out how to utilize our time that many of us balance with work, class, internships, etc… I agree that burnout is a serious problem in the organization, but I’m not convinced that increasing the barrier to membership or forcing us to run repeat elections is the answer.

    In regards to the constitutional changes, we in-person public outreach events about the organizational restructure announced on social media and in the mac daily. What specific steps should we do to be more transparent? What specific reforms have exacerbated our organizational problems? I’m open to your ideas.