Campus News

Students vote either Mahlstedt or Cummings in mock congressional election

Story posted May 07, 2002

Election day! And if the past is any indication of the present, more students will vote in today’s mock congressional election than voted in the student government elections earlier this year.

Each year for 10 years Chris Potholm has offered Government 361b. Advanced Seminar in International Relations: Conflict Simulation and Conflict Resolution, a class best known for the mock congressional election that takes place in during the final weeks of the school year.

At the beginning of the semester the class is divided into two teams. Those teams work together throughout the semester to debate issues of national and international conflict. If the students choose, the class finishes with a bona fide campaign for congress.

This year Travis Cummings is running against Zhara Mahlstedt, who hopes to be the first woman to win the election. Each candidate has a campaign manager and team working to get all Bowdoin students involved in supporting a candidate and going to the polls today.

This may not be a real office, but they endeavor to cover real issues. In the past, campaign issues have been acted on by the administration and the student government. Teams typically poll students to help determine what issues they’ll cover.

Some people have criticized the election, saying that because the candidates graduate soon after the election is completed, they don’t always follow up on their campaign issues. Both Mahlstedt and Cummings say they are serious about the election and are not making empty promises.

“We’re not making promises we can’t keep — I know every candidate says that,” Cummings said.

Issues the candidates have in common are the new plus/minus grading system, the expansion of polar points to offer more options, and security issues on campus. (Cummings advocates a system of ID card access to 24-hour study spaces; Mahlstedt wants to see study spaces consolidated so that a limited security staff can better patrol.)

Seniors already know who they’re voting for, Cummings said. The real contest is among the younger classes.

In addition, Mahlstedt is concentrating on environmental/energy saving issues and accessibility on campus for people with disabilities, and Cummings is concerned with expanded use of the new taxi service and increased student involvement in recruiting a diverse student body.

“I just hope my seriousness about making a change shows through,” said Mahlstedt.

The experiences of the mock congressional candidates mirror the experiences of candidates beyond Bowdoin. They visit influential groups such as College Houses and athletic teams; they sell their polls to the administration to raise money; they debate the issues; and, of course, print and hang campaign signs. And, as in the real world of politics, dirty campaigning often rears its ugly head. Dirty campaigning, in this election, however isn’t as mean spirited as in real life and usually entails embarrassing stories of drunken escapades and the like. Both candidates say they don’t want that to happen this year.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, students involved give high marks to the class.

“I’ve never put more time into anything, academically, as this class,” said Cummings.

The students agree that it’s the most practical class they’ve ever taken, in terms of preparing them for life outside of college.

“We’re using our minds in ways we’ve never used them before, and we know how to think critically
but this is creative and strategic critical thinking,” said Susan Price, Mahlstedt’s campaign manager.

Polls are open from 8:30 to 3 p.m., in David Saul Smith Union.

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