Low election turnout has SGA working to increase votes
Students had the chance to cast votes for student government senators and executive leaders in elections held Feb. 27 through March 1, but only about 5 percent participated.
University officials announced a record enrollment of 26,442 students in fall 2011. The election attracted 1,414 voters, according to numbers released by Election Commissioner John Thomas.
While the 2012 turnout marks a slight increase from the election of 2011, when 813 students voted– about 3 percent of the student population– it is a marked drop from 2010, when 2,325 students cast ballots– about 9 percent of the student population.
These numbers come before a referendum scheduled for April 16 through 19, when constituents will have a chance to vote on an SGA Constitutional amendment.
“I’m not a PR major, and I didn’t have anyone as a PR major on my election commission,” Thomas said. “I just kind of took the routes that I saw worked in the past, and I just tried to go with that, but it’s just tough trying to hit all 27,000 students when we have such a diverse campus.”
The past two elections featured a number of uncontested executive races. There were two such contests in 2012 and three in 2011, Thomas said.
Thomas said uncontested races may contribute to less exposure to the campaign for potential voters.
“If you are running uncontested, you are not going to campaign,” Thomas said. “When you don’t campaign, you don’t hit that many people, and you don’t get that many touch points on students. Once you get two or three candidates running against each other, you are going to have more competition, and competition always drives excellence.”
Rachel Lee, who was unopposed for executive vice president, encouraged students to vote in order to make their voices known to SGA officials.
“As an unopposed candidate I still took it very seriously,” Lee said. “Whether I am opposed or unopposed, it’s still my job to represent the entire student body, and I want to know their concerns, and I want them to know who is representing them.”
Regardless of participation, elections cost the election commission about $6500 a year to facilitate, according to Dan Kelley, assistant vice president for student affairs and SGA advisor.
The software used to conduct elections costs about $5,000 a year, while the election commissioner is allowed $1,500 a year to promote elections, Kelley said.
But two new opportunities that may be on tap for next year could help to both lower the cost of elections and increase turnout.
New software that student organizations and clubs use contains a component to conduct elections and may be an alternative to the current software.
“We are going to trial the election piece of the software over the next couple of months to determine if it will be suitable for SGA elections,” Kelley said. “If that is the case, we will begin using this software in the fall, which will reduce that $5000 per year cost quite significantly.”
In January, SGA amended the electoral act to allow for placement of voting machines in accessible public places. Confusion over how to implement such a system delayed the amendment’s impact for this year, but the system is under consideration for next year and beyond.
“That is something I would like to implement,” said Anit Patel, who was elected to succeed Thomas as election commissioner. “That would be a great idea to get more people aware of the voting.”
Patel, who named increasing election turnout as his top goal, said increased use of social media also will be a key strategy.
“A lot of students spend most of their time on Facebook and Twitter,” Patel said. “Definitely using social media a lot more than we have in the past to get more people to vote. That’s my biggest deal right now is to get more people to vote and more people to run.”