Med School’s New Voting System

In an effort to increase voter turnout in ASSU elections, Stanford’s School of Medicine will now synchronize voting for its own elections with the general ASSU elections. Before the changes, Medical School students voted for representative to the Stanford Medical Student Association (SMSA) during the same week as ASSU elections, but did so on a different ballot.

The changes are expected to mostly impact the ASSU executive race. Last year, 260 Medical School students voted in the ASSU elections, out of a total enrollment of about 560. While difficult to determine whether this will even impact voter turnout, the change could mean up to 300 additional votes from Medical School students for ASSU races and special fees.

While students from all of Stanford’s graduate schools are members of the ASSU and are entitled to vote in ASSU elections, most graduate schools vote for ASSU and their own student government bodies in separate voting websites. This leads many graduate students to only vote for professional school elections but desist from voting in the general ASSU one.

According to second year M.D./Ph.D. student and GSC member Jessica Tsai, “The professional school elections typically have high turnout.” With the new single ballot system adopted by the SMSA, this will likely translate into a similarly high turnout in ASSU elections.

Since the changes have only been made to one graduate school that represents a small fraction of the total graduate population, Elections Commissioner Quinn Slack ’11 believes that the SMSA integration “will have little potential for major impact.”

Furthermore, Slack stated that the Medical School has traditionally voted in relatively high numbers when compared to other graduate schools, with “approximately 50-75% turnout in ASSU elections previous years.” However, the real impact would be felt if other graduate schools follow suit, something Slack would like to see. He stated, “The hope is that all Stanford student elections will occur on the same ballot in the next few years.”

If other graduate schools follow the Medical School’s path in upcoming years, it could fundamentally change the way campaigning for the ASSU executive works. In last year’s executive race, graduate turnout was significantly lower than undergraduate turnout. Only 1,783 out of approximately 8,300 graduate students participated in the elections, while 3,841 out of approximately 6800 undergraduates did so.

Slack believes that increased graduate student turnout resulting from expanding the new unified voting system could have two main impacts on future elections. First, he predicts that increased graduate turnout will lead to more graduate students would voted in to ASSU executive positions, which are traditionally held by undergraduates. Secondly, he stated that “more graduate turnout would mean that some undergraduate-only Special Fee groups who do serve the graduate population would become Join Special Fee groups, which would spread the burden of funding those groups over the whole population.”

According to third year Law students and GSC member Eric Osborne, the change was particularly easy for the Medical School to make as the both ASSU and SMSA elections were held on the same week. He added that the Stanford Law Association (SLA) also favored synchronizing its elections with the ASSU, but that the group was unable to achieve this “more for logistical reasons than for reasons of principle.” He concluded, “Hopefully, with better planning, we will implement that for next year.”

In addition to joint special fees and ASSU executive, graduate students also vote for GSC members and graduate-exclusive special fees in ASSU elections.

In an email to the Review, ASSU President and coterminal student in computer science David Gobaud expressed that there was no debate that led to the new voting process. Instead, he writes, “The idea came up, I think, at the fall GSC retreat and [was] presented to [SMSA] President Agnieszka Czechowicz who then worked it out with Quinn Slack, the Elections Commissioner.”

Slack commented that “this is a decision about elections implementation and logistics, so it’s solely the decision of the Elections Commission.” Furthermore, Slack said he brought this up with the undergraduate senate starting November 2009 numerous times, but noted that “nobody had any comments.”

While the Elections Commission was the main entity behind the changes, Slack emphasized that his group’s main goal is not to increase voter turnout. Instead, he argues the commission aims to “give every student that ability to learn about elections if they choose to.”

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