In the 2010 University of Manitoba Student’s Union (UMSU) general election, 2,374 students chose to vote in this uncontested race — more than 10 per cent of the eligible voters at the University of Manitoba, said Chief Returning Officer, Jason van Rooy.
This figure represents a drop from last year’s 19.1 per cent, which was the highest voter turnout since 1999, but an increase from the 7.46 per cent seen in the 2007 UMSU general election, which was the last time a slate ran unopposed.
Regardless of the increase over 2007, one thing remains clear; only a small fraction of U of M students were motivated to cast a ballot. When asked about why turnout wasn’t higher, Van Rooy said that a lot of people come to the university to study, and “don’t want to get involved in, or invested in the students’ union.”
However, Jared Wesley, an assistant professor in the department of political studies, feels that the problem might be more complex than that.
Wesley told the Manitoban, “[If] student groups want to encourage students to get out and vote, they have to start asking themselves, ‘What is the payoff for the student?’”
He said that the “payoff” normally comes in the form of preventing someone you don’t want to be elected from winning the race, or making sure that your candidate wins. In a single slate election, however, Wesley asked, “What is the chance that your one vote is actually going to matter?”
When asked how UMSU could increase voter turnout in the future, Wesley suggested that, in addition to providing the students with a payoff, making it is as convenient for students to vote as possible — by extending the amount of time students had to vote and by making the election more visible — could help.
“To be honest with you, the walls plastered with different [campaign] posters — I’m not sure if it does anything [for visibility],” he continued.
Wesley also said that, in terms of student awareness, the decision made by Van Rooy and the candidates to ban the use of Facebook.com “hurt turnout, because it decreased the potential visibility of the election.”
In regards to the ban on the use of Facebook for campaigning, while Van Rooy did admit that it could have been a powerful campaigning tool, and definitely something that future UMSU elections will no doubt have to deal with, he stood by his decision to prohibit its use, saying that privacy settings would make it too hard to monitor for illegal campaigning.