Most college students don’t vote. This is common knowledge. However, what if you were offered free drinks at the local bar to vote? Or a free ride in a stretch hummer limousine to the polls? Would you take the 15 minutes to go cast your vote then? Would you even vote for a particular candidate if asked to do so in exchange for these incentives?
It is rumored that “the machine” is a group of closely-bonded leaders of the Greek community at the University of Alabama that support select candidates for Student Government.
This “machine” is rumored to have hand-picked candidates for SGA for about a century now; much like the political bosses that we all read about in 8th grade history. It seems, now, that this “machine” is expanding its influence into city-wide elections.
On August 27th the City of Tuscaloosa held its municipal elections. One of the candidates running for Tuscaloosa school board was former SGA President Cason Kirby. The former SGA President defeated the incumbent school board member by a narrow margin. He must have had a strong message, right? Maybe, but here’s what else we know...
A series of emails have surfaced that “encouraged” members of UA Greek organizations to vote for the former SGA President as well as a UA alumni who was in the city’s election for school board chair. No harm done, right? Free speech, right? Well, these emails also offered those members who voted free drinks at a host of local bars on election night as well as free limo rides to and from the polls. Also, 75% of those registered to vote in Tuscaloosa in 2013 did so between Aug. 9 and Aug. 16. Also, 256 of 267 of them were born after 1990.
Now, let me speak as a member of the Greek community, as an SGA leader, and as someone who believes it is our responsibility to support and maintain the tenets of democracy.
I can appreciate the organization of voters, as it is vital to any serious campaign. You form a message, register voters, and turn out those voters.
Without mass voter registration efforts of the 2008 Obama campaign, we could be entering a second term of President McCain.
What I do disagree with is that these voters may have been registered for the sole purpose of electing one candidate to office.
This, I believe, may serve to undermine the tenet of democracy that states that leaders should be chosen by the people in regular, free, and fair elections.
All of that said, I must say that the registration of voters in masses does not come close to the disturbance that I feel in the idea that dozens, maybe hundreds of voters were influenced to vote – and to vote a particular way - merely by free drinks and flashy rides. We can’t say for sure that these voters would or wouldn’t have turned out on Election Day in Tuscaloosa otherwise, but there had to have been some motivation behind the groups offering the incentives.
I ask you again, what would it take to get you to the polls? Free drinks? Flashy rides?
Or are you going to stay home for your city elections like most college students would otherwise.