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If you’re like a lot of folks reading this, you’ve probably had enough of student elections. You’re tired of a disfigured Quad and garishly-polluted Walk. You’re sick of shallow platforms, cheesy slogans and overeager candidates. Like most everyone else, you can’t wait for Penn’s semiannual, 50-way popularity contest to end — and for peace to return to campus once more.

There’s good reason to feel this way, and it explains why voter turnout for the last freshman and spring elections stood at 62 and 48 percent, respectively. Elections are seen as a procedural bridge propelling resume-padding candidates into a distant, often confusing student government. For many, there’s simply no reason to get excited about student elections — and, unless both candidates and voters change their tune, there never will be.

Particularly in the rapid-fire world of freshman elections, office-seekers often find themselves in fierce competition for fancy titles they know very little about. The typical results — vague promises to air-condition Hill and make Commons food better — weaken voter participation by casting an air of superficiality around the whole process.

This problem can be fixed. Broadly speaking, good candidates should not only understand how student government works; they should also shape their platforms based on input from specific subsets of the Penn community with whom they eventually want to work — that’s a lot different from just targeting “freshmen” or “College students.”

In a campus as big and diverse as our own, focusing attention on the needs of distinct student groups can help candidates find a base and dramatically increase overall levels of excitement. When I mounted my own campaign for UA, I ran overwhelmingly on issues affecting political- and performing-arts groups. After being elected, it’s been their issues I’ve remained most focused on, and their communities I’ve remained closest to.

This kind of aggressive research differs sharply from a passive “available to talk anytime” posted on a candidate’s Facebook group. It involves actively seeking out constituent problems and forming actionable solutions. According to College freshman UA candidate Andrew Jakubowski, “Voters definitely respond positively to me when I discuss issues I’d like to address and when I ask for personal input.”

Voters also shoulder some of the blame for the current state of student elections — and some of the responsibility for fixing them. While not every person may be involved or even interested in student government, almost every person is involved or interested in a student group or organization. By educating themselves on how student government (and candidates) affect the things they care about, voters become active in the election process — to the benefit of all involved.

That said, this year’s freshman elections have shown promising steps in the right direction. According to Wharton senior and Nominations and Elections vice chairwoman of elections Patricia Liu, “This year there are fewer posters plastered all over campus, and campaigns have generally been more clever. There’s been a lot more focus on candidate-to-voter interactions, and this is something we’ve been hoping to achieve for awhile now.”

This is a sentiment shared by many of the students’ resident assistants that I’ve spoken with; like no year before them, the Class of 2013 has gone viral. Word of mouth and (mostly) entertaining campaign videos have changed the rules of the game, while realism behind campaign pledges has increased. The NEC’s campus-wide push for early voting and candidate education has proven largely successful, and these efforts should only be expanded in future.

Thankfully, the campaign blitz is drawing to a close. Looking ahead, however, voter excitement will remain a serious election-time issue. It’s long been a cardinal rule of politics that a campaign succeeds when voters feel truly invested in its outcome. This hasn’t often been the case in Penn student elections — but, starting next election cycle, it should be.

Emerson Brooking is a College junior from Turnerville, Ga. He is a member of the Undergraduate Assembly. His e-mail address is

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