2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Low voter turnout isn’t a problem

By Kate Jacobson, March 19 2015 —

Voter turnout in this year’s Students’ Union election wasn’t great. It was 25.4 per cent, a couple percentage points less than last year’s voter turnout of 28.8 per cent. But chasing higher voter turnout doesn’t address any of the problems with student engagement.

This is usually the time when SU officials and campus newspapers ponder what could be done to increase voter turnout. We insist that there’s a magic app or hashtag that will suddenly make students care about union elections. 

There isn’t. And not only that, it doesn’t matter. We don’t need higher voter turnout. Could the university use more engaged students? Absolutely. But finding gimmicks to lure an apathetic student body to vote doesn’t mean students will be engaged. 

If you want to vote, information is readily available. Candidates make presentations in classes. If you hang out in MacHall long enough, a candidate will talk to you. There are forums where candidates answer questions. The Gauntlet runs an election supplement. Posters cover every wall. 

Voting is easy too. There’s a giant button on your student centre that reminds you to vote. If none of this can get students to vote, why should anyone worry about their opinions?

Dragging apathetic students to the polls doesn’t mean student government will be successful. Candidates have won with strategies that included posters with the phrase, “nice dick bro.” Last year, a candidate who dropped out of the race managed to get five per cent of the vote. Students can be awarded full-time salaried positions where they manage an organization controlling millions of dollars for being hot or having good puns on their posters. 

I’m not suggesting that there should be a test students have to pass before they get to vote. If you want to cast a vote for the hottest candidate, go ahead. But the bigger issue is the majority of students who don’t vote at all.

Most students don’t vote in union elections because they don’t care. Student government is as accessible as it can possibly be without the offices being in a glass box by the prairie chicken. 

When it comes to student elections, we’re addressing the wrong problem. Information is accessible and voting is easy. But students won’t be motivated to cast a ballot if they don’t feel like they’re part of a community.

Building a community that people care about is difficult. It requires large groups of people to be vulnerable when the chance of failure is high. We need sustained efforts from people with a multitude of other struggles — grades, student debt, mental health, part-time jobs — in order for student activism to be worthwhile. 

Talking in vague terms about student engagement is an easy platform point, but the reality of student life on campus is that we’ve tried all the band-aid solutions. We’re given a lot of opportunities to interact with student government on campus and when we do, our concerns are taken seriously. 

No one wants to admit that we’ve tried everything and students still don’t care. But this year’s SU elections prove that apathy is more than just a cynical prediction. If we want voter turnout to improve, we need students to care more about both the university they attend and the students who do so alongside them.

Voting is easy. The information is there. Accessibility to the SU is a problem we’ve solved. The voter turnout in our SU elections proves that students just don’t care about student government. That’s an entirely different problem. Realizing that means we can begin to fix it. 

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