By Jacob Schaperow, editor-in-chief, @jschap1
I heard something worrisome during Student Government Association elections last week. I asked a friend of mine if he was voting in the SGA elections. “What’s SGA?” was not the response I was expecting. A campuswide student organization with as much influence as SGA should be a household name.
SGA obscurity hit a low point last year when only 900 or so students voted in its elections. While more than four times as many students voted in this year’s elections, perhaps because there were actually contested positions this year, that is still only a small fraction of the student population taking an active role.
Only about 15.8 percent of undergraduate students at this university voted in the SGA elections last week, SGA election board chairwoman Emily Williams told The Diamondback yesterday. This is about average, SGA adviser Joe Calizo said in The Diamondback article announcing the results.
Voter turnout is a problem at the national level as well as at the university level. The 2014 midterm elections had an abysmal voter turnout, with about 36 percent of the voting-age population casting ballots. In the 2012 presidential elections, turnout was closer to 58 percent. Turnout is typically higher in presidential election years, according to the Washington Post’s politics blog.
Considering how much easier it is to vote in SGA elections than in U.S. elections, it is surprising turnout is not higher. There is no voter registration process, you can vote online and there is even a helpful description of each candidate’s background and goals posted on the ballot.
Do only 15 percent of students care about issues like tuition rates, sexual assault, and the student activities fee? SGA members need to do their utmost to ensure that the organization is as representative of the student body as possible. This would ideally be achieved by a 100 percent voter turnout rate. Low rates make you ask: Is 4,256 out of 27,000 representative of the student body?
SGA presidential candidate Ori Gutin, who lost yesterday to Next Party’s Patrick Ronk, called on the organization to make more of an effort to connect with the student body. Although the Voice Party will be a minority in next year’s SGA, its message of expanding communications between the SGA members and the student body would be a worthy task for SGA over the next year.
Of course, it is not entirely on the SGA to increase voter participation rates. We students need to step up and commit to improving the way things work around this university. Commit to a student group, read the school newspaper, pay attention to what goes on around the campus and look beyond the narrow domain of your classes and friends. Get involved and ask questions — this is the way to make your voice heard.
Jacob Schaperow is a junior civil engineering – environmental and water resources major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.