March 5 2019 —
If you’re reading this, we don’t need to tell you that it’s important to vote in this week’s Students’ Union general election. By clicking on this link, you’ve demonstrated that (1) you already care enough to read the campus publication’s article complaining about the lack of student engagement with the SU and (2) you’re capable of working a computer to vote online.
This editorial will fall on deaf ears. But I need to publish an editorial each week, so here we go.
This is the fifth SU election season I’ve witnessed and it’s been a spicy one. Disqualifications, combative debate and personally targeted questions for the candidates abound. You can’t fault the level of commitment and fervour this year’s candidates have put into running. And an exciting election season should hopefully boost voter turnout come Thursday evening.
Voter turnout in SU general elections at the University of Calgary hovers around 25 per cent each year. Its highest point in the last five years was in 2014 with 28.8 per cent of undergraduate students casting ballots and its lowest in 2016 with 24.7 per cent. It’s safe to say any effort to increase voter turnout over the course of this period has failed.
That’s not even going into voter turnout in byelections.
Sure, voter turnout at the U of C is often higher than many other schools in the province. The Students’ Association of Mount Royal University can boast a 6.8 per cent turnout last election. Turnout for SAIT Students’ Association and the Students’ Association of MacEwan University elections usually hovers just above 10 per cent. And at the University of Alberta Students’ Union, turnout has only recently climbed to levels comparable to ours.
But comparing garbage to hot garbage doesn’t make ours no longer garbage.
Low voter turnout in SU elections is problematic for a variety of reasons. It detracts from the SU’s mandate when it advocates for causes. It skews just how ‘representative’ our elected officials are of the entire student body.
But most damningly, it demonstrates that most students don’t care about their student government. It’s not an awareness problem — if you’ve stepped foot on campus this past week, you know it’s election season. It’s not an accessibility problem — voting online is easy and takes mere minutes.
You can’t make every student care. Many are here just to come to campus in the morning, go to class, maybe study for a bit, then head home. My ‘student experience’ needed more involvement than just that, but if yours just consists of getting your degree and then peacing out, that’s your prerogative.
So if you’re reading this, congratulations on caring. Voting days are from March 5–7, which I’m sure you already know. I’d tell you to tell your friends to vote, but our social circles reflect ourselves, and they’re already likely to vote, too. It’s important to vote, but it’s even more important to acknowledge that we represent a minority of student interests and concerns across the whole student body.
— Derek Baker, Gauntlet editorial board