Juniors abroad surprised about ineligibility to vote

Josh Goodman

In the midst of last week’s Executive Council elections and yesterday’s Senate races, several Whitman students studying abroad were surprised to find that they are ineligible to vote.  Their exclusion resulted from their not paying ASWC dues this semester; students studying abroad and in domestic off-campus study programs generally pay tuition and fees to their respective programs rather than to Whitman.

ASWC Vice President and Chair of the Student Affairs Committee, senior Jordan Clark, said that poor communication lead to juniors being unaware of their inability to vote.

“The issue of who is allowed to vote has always been somewhat vague, which means that it is not always effectively communicated to the student body,” he said in an e-mail.

There are currently 108 students studying abroad according to the Off-Campus Studies Office. Laura Cummings, senior assistant for off-campus studies, said that students are not told that they will not be able to vote in ASWC elections. Fifty percent of students study off-campus during their junior year.

Students abroad overwhelmingly feel that the policy is unfair.

“I was really upset when I found out I couldn’t vote in this year’s student elections,” said junior Elizabeth Wierenga-Lee in an e-mail. “While I might not have paid dues, I will next year, so I should be able to have a say in how ASWC is run and the people in charge . . . In a college where 50 percent of the junior class studies abroad for a semester or more, the election process has to be more flexible to allow everyone who wants to to have a voice.”

Junior Griselda Guevara-Cruz also wishes she could have voted for those who will be representing her when she pays dues next year.

“It’s pretty pathetic that we don’t get to vote while abroad,” she said. “Whoever sets this regulation should take into consideration that most juniors study abroad and that it’s important for us: at least for me, anyway: to have the ability to vote. I will be paying my ASWC fees [next year] for people I did not even elect.”

While junior Anna Sky agrees that students studying abroad should be allowed to vote, she admits that it didn’t make a difference for her.

“I doubt many folks who are abroad are really paying attention to ASWC happenings right now,” she said in an e-mail. “I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to vote because I didn’t try to . . . So just like other ambivalent Whitties, I don’t mind that I wasn’t able to vote.”

While students abroad are not able to vote, they are able to run for office. Presidential candidate Gary Wang and nominations chair candidate Kim Sommers both ran for office from abroad in last week’s Executive Council elections.

Junior Laura van der Veer found that ironic.

“If they can run for president from another country, why can’t we vote from abroad as well?” she asked.

According to sophomore ASWC Oversight Chair Jack MacNichol, the answer is that there’s no restriction on who can run so long as they’ll be a member of ASWC while in office. Furthermore, there is a longstanding precedent of students running for office from abroad.

And while MacNichol feels that the policy is unfair, there’s little he can do.

“I would like to see [study abroad] juniors vote, too, but it’s a political question that’s not up to me to decide,” he said. “I have to administer the election by the rules.”

Clark, however, said ASWC may soon take up the issue if there’s enough student demand.

“We don’t currently have anything on the agenda, but if there is a demonstrated interest by the student body, it is something that we can feasibly fix by the end of the year and definitely before the next set of elections come around,” he said.

This is not the first time a group of students has been unexpectedly excluded from ASWC elections. Last year, seniors were unable to vote in Executive Council elections after language prohibiting them from voting was slipped into a rewrite of part of the ASWC constitution. Students approved a constitutional amendment to allow outgoing seniors to vote last fall.

According to MacNichol, a constitutional amendment or by-law change is one of the range of options for allowing students studying abroad to vote. Another is offering a reduced-price ASWC membership.

Sophomore Katie DeCramer, who will study abroad in spring 2011, hopes ASWC will change the current rules so that she can vote while abroad.

“I’d probably be just disappointed in the process and that not everyone could have a say in who would represent them when they’re here on campus [if the current rules remain],” DeCramer said. “It wouldn’t be that difficult to allow people living abroad to be able to vote.”