UMSU tries to combat student voter apathy

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Voter turnout for the University of Manitoba’s student elections has been averaging about 11 per cent over the past decade, meaning 11 per cent of students are making 100 per cent of the voting decisions.

Voter turnout peaked over 12 years ago in 1999 at 23 per cent, and never broke 20 per cent again. Last year’s election saw voter turnout drop 7.15 per cent from 17.56 in 2009 per cent to 10.41 per cent in 2010.

This translates into about 2,400 students exercising their right to vote in 2010, out of approximately 22 800 students.

The all-time lowest voter turnout in UMSU election history came in 2002, when only 4.60 per cent of students cast a ballot.

Ian Literovich, vice-presidential (external) candidate from Clean Slate, said he felt that bringing out the issues that matter will bring out the voters.

“The only way for any democratic society, whether it’s a student union or a country, to claim that it legitimately supports the will of the people is to be able to say that they truly represent the people,” said Literovich.

“In our case, with voter turnout averaging around 10 per cent, it becomes incredibly important to speak to the issues of students so that they will become a part of that process.”

By contrast, Queen’s University has one of the higher voter turnouts rates for student elections, amongst Canadian universities.

Calum MacBeth, from the commission of internal affairs of Alma Mater Society, the student government for Queen’s University, said that in the 2008 student elections the university enjoyed a 46.5 per cent voter turnout, which MacBeth said was one of the highest turnouts the university has seen.

In 2010, the turnout dropped to just below 40 per cent, and then to just under 25 per cent in this year’s election, which took place on Feb. 1 and 2.

“Unfortunately, it was one of the lower turnouts we’ve had over the last two decades. Not the lowest, but it was pretty low [ . . . ]” said MacBeth.

Queen’s University began using an electronic ballot last year, offering students the chance to vote online. Besides saving money on paper costs, manpower and being more environmentally sustainable, MacBeth said that it made voting much more accessible.

Polls were open for almost 48 hours straight and did not have to abide by the conventional hours of paper polls. More importantly, voting could be done from anywhere.

Another factor that could be correlated to voter turnout at Queen’s University is the use of social media. According to Macbeth, last year both slates had well over a thousand “likes,” but this year that number didn’t break 300.

MacBeth felt the reason for the dropout in voter turnout was the lack of competition and big issues. One of the top positions was acclaimed, and fewer candidates ran for other positions, which traditionally stirred election buzz.

“[Last year] there was a very big issue of putting solar panels on campus, which students were very passionate about. [ . . . ] This year there wasn’t that big-ticket item,” explained MacBeth.

“I think it really is a combination of both issues, and catchy marketing can catch that marginal voter, the ones that are sort of on the fence,” said MacBeth.

Delaney Coelho, presidential candidate from Get More, said that members of her slate have been trying to get students excited about the elections by giving out pins, stickers and lollipops, and also utilizing bright colours and playing music until they were asked to stop.

“We believe that campaigning shouldn’t have to be dry and boring, and one of the ways to get voter turnout up is by making it a fun process for students to be a part of, [ . . . ] without compromising our platform and still taking the election very seriously,” said Coelho.

Camilla Tapp, presidential candidate from Working Together, said that encouraging voter turnout has been one of the major initiatives of Working Together, and noted the importance for students to ask questions of the candidates on issues that concern them.

“When students are engaged and voting across campus in large numbers, it gives power to the student’s union to lobby government [ . . . ],” said Tapp.
Sasa Janjic, a student in the faculty of science, said that he did not have a chance to vote in advanced polls on March 4. Janjic said he will vote in the regular polls, if he can remember.

“It has relevance, but it doesn’t seem to directly affect me and that’s sort of why I’m not that involved,” said Janjic.

Science student Ivan Lubiano said he felt it was important to vote in student elections, and would be voting Wednesday.

“[ . . . ]I mean, probably a lot of people don’t think it is, but it’s our student union, right? We have control over who goes into,” said Lubiano.

Lubiano feels that motivating students to vote is difficult because a lot of students don’t feel it’s worth their time, though it only takes a minute to vote.
Polls open on March 9 and close on March 11.