Why uncontested elections are a problem for democracy at Queen’s

Image by: Tessa Warburton

A fundamental problem at Queen’s has received limited attention and even less action: our lack of engagement in student politics.

This year, the AMS executive election for the most visible and highest-paid positions in Queen’s student government ran uncontested for the third year in a row.  

The AMS isn’t the only student society struggling to attract candidates. This year, EngSocComSoc, COMPSA, CESA, and ResSoc all ran uncontested elections, as well as two of the three SGPS executive positions. The rector election was uncontested for the first time in more than 20 years. In fact, the only major competitive election on campus this year was ASUS.

All these uncontested elections mean that next year, every student on this campus will be represented by at least one student politician who ran unopposed.

This has dramatic implications—uncontested elections are inherently undemocratic.

Democratic systems were never intended to operate based on elected officials who faced no competition. Elections are a cornerstone of democracy—they keep politicians accountable and citizens engaged. 

Democracy is intended to give voters choice, and while Queen’s students do have the choice to vote ‘no confidence,’ the effect is not the same as getting a choice between multiple candidate’s visions.

Additionally, studies show that in uncontested elections, people are less likely to vote. Queen’s already has problems with student government engagement—we don’t need to further discourage voter turnout. The less people vote, the less representative our student government will be. We need as many voices as possible heard in decision-making processes, but when there’s only one candidate to speak for students, people might feel like their voices won’t make a difference to the outcome.

Uncontested elections also leave our student politicians less accountable. Part of accountability for any politician comes from the knowledge that voters have chosen them over others. If that’s not the case, that accountability is weakened.

It’s not any one person’s fault that so many Queen’s elections are uncontested. It’s not incumbent on next year’s student politicians to convince students to run—they’re busy doing the jobs they were already elected to do. 

No one should be forced to run in elections for the sake of competition. But these elected positions are important: they touch the lives of every student at Queen’s through advocacy, programming, and policy. Queen’s students deserve to choose whose vision will fill these roles. 

We need to change the culture around student politics. We need more students to run in order for these elections to be truly democratic, and for voters to receive a meaningful choice. And it needs to happen sooner rather than later, because we can’t wait to revamp the campus democracy that’s essential to Queen’s.

Carolyn is one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors. She’s a second-year Political Studies student.


Queen's, student elections, student politics

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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