40 Years Ago: The crooked student government elections

voteUnlike in high school, where I was reasonably popular (student government president, drama club, et al), I was rather uninvolved in college; getting married at 19 will do that. I didn’t hang out at the bars and drink; the age of consent was 18 then. I just went to class, and came home, did the grocery shopping and like chores, I would go bowling occasionally with guys I knew, primarily my fellow political science majors.

In the spring of 1974, a bunch of my poli sci acquaintances decided to run as a team with some other folks, who I’ll call the Party and Dance folks.They figured they would capture the beer crowd (the poli sci) and the pot folks (P and D). But there were eleven slots, but they had only ten folks willing to run. So my buddy/classmate Richie was tasked with recruiting me. I said yes, at least partly out of guilt – I was so disconnected from extracurricular campus life; and partly out of the idea that participation would look good on the resume.

I was to run for Cultural Chairman (sic). There were five areas in the budget, and the cultural area was to fund the arts activities and the various clubs. My recollection was that there was no real competition in any race except for one, and you can guess which one. Draped across the McKenna Theater was this massive banner which read: MIKE HIRSCH HAS CULTURE. I figured I had lost the race. It’s not as though we had debates on the issues; it was a popularity contest, he had name recognition, and I did not.

But the rumor mill was rife with reporting that there was rampant voting irregularities, with some people casting their ballots more than once. Since I was what was likely the only competitive race, I reached out to Michael Hirsch. We met somewhere for coffee or tea. He seemed like a good guy. We agreed that, since we didn’t know WHO was rigging the election that neither of us would challenge the results. As it turned out, everyone on my ticket enjoyed large majorities, except for me, who won narrowly.

Two years later, I became election commissioner. I hired a townie (non-student) friend of mine named Anne Sergeant to sit at the ballot table. She was instructed to make a mark on their student ID cars in the 37 square on the back. She discovered that several people came back throughout the day to vote again, but she shut them down. And since she wasn’t a student, and was unknown to most of them, she couldn’t be talked into letting them vote again.

Several years ago, I thought about this incident and wondered whatever became of Michael Hirsch. Unfortunately, Mike Hirsch, an advocate for services to people afflicted with AIDS, died of complications of the disease in February 1989. “He was 34 years old and lived in Manhattan.”

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