In an attempt to bring an element of government and politics to everyday life at a STEM school, Caltech house culture proudly follows a system of democracy. Yearly elections give the opportunity for political turnover, leaving house positions such as president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer up for grabs. In addition to these standard positions, we also have a few unique to Caltech. Some positions in Venerable include:
- Ath man. Every house has an ath man, who is responsible for (1) organizing inter-house sports games and (2) ensuring that people actually show up for these games. Oftentimes this job involves running laps around the house to bang on doors and scream, “COME TO INTER-HOUSE VOLLEYBALL” or the like.
- Librarian. Generally only first years can run for the librarian position. The librarian is responsible for maintaining house records and giving dinner announcements for people’s birthdays. One requirement of the job is that you memorize everyone’s first, middle, and last names, as you are liable to be quizzed at any time! The librarian also organizes first year orientation and other events such as “first year Fridays.”
- Secretary. The secretary is responsible for recording meeting minutes and keeping and maintaining house records. They also lead room assignments.
However, regardless of the significance of the position being run for, the most important piece of any Venerable house election is the role of No.
Now, you may be thinking, “What in the world is No?” Might this be an Odyssey reference, a clever play on words to disguise an answer or identity? Is it our way of rebuking the voting process? Alas, it is none of these things, but rather, another way to uphold and embody the Caltech Honor Code through the principle of democracy.
At Caltech, the most important lesson we learn is that nothing comes easy. Whether this be in regards to the hours spent on problem sets, the struggle to maintain a healthy vegetarian diet, or the constant balance of sleep and social lives, we always must keep this lesson in mind. So, when it comes to an uncontested election position, there is no reason to assume the outcome may be any different.
At this point, you may be thinking, “How can I lose an UNCONTESTED election!” On first interpretation, such a concept seems ludicrous. If you don’t win the election, who would? The answer: No.
On every ballet, regardless of the number of people running, there is an option to vote No. Venerable uses ranked choice voting, where all candidates must be ranked including No. Thus, it is possible to lose an uncontested election if No is ranked as #1 and the candidate as #2. Ranked votes also means that once a clear loser has been decided, all votes for that person go to the next ranked person on each voter’s list. Thus, two people can lose an election to No if everyone who voted for person three voted for No second (in addition to those people voting for No first). This is Venerable’s method of modeling “veto power.”
So, I guess the moral of this story is to take nothing for granted and appreciate No as the formidable adversary it is.
As announced at Venerable dinner the week of this year’s elections: “All these candidates are great and cool, but let me tell you about the BEST candidate, No. No is better than everyone else, so vote early, vote often, vote No.”