Every spring, the Associated Students holds elections to determine who will sit on next year’s AS Board of Directors. The seven members of the board are the elected representatives of the student body and they vote on a number of issues affecting student life, tuition prices and how the money allocated to the AS will be spent.
In the 2013 spring election, 1,935 votes were cast for AS president. This year, only 1,057 votes were cast in the presidential race. The number marks not only a decline from last year’s voter turnout, but also means that just over 7 percent of the student body actually voted. In some of the other races, the vote totals were in the 900s.
To get a better understanding of how the elections process works and explore why voter turnout was so low, we sat down AS Elections Coordinator Nic Doherty and AS Communications Director Mason Luvera.
Q&A with Nic Doherty, AS Elections Coordinator
Take us through the elections process. How is the voting marketed and how has your office tried to engage voters?
The elections this year included three weeks of campaigning, with one of those weeks being voting. Once the voting started students were able to vote online and at two different poll stations on campus. We did some outreach online on our website and we encouraged candidates to be out on campus as much as they could. We put up posters, paid for Facebook advertising and put up fliers on the on-campus news boards. We also sponsored candidate debates and put individual candidate profiles in on-campus newspapers like the AS Review and the Western Front.
What specific things did you try this year to get the maximum number of students to vote?
We expanded the number of polling stations from one to two, putting one on south campus. We also expanded our online operations, putting candidate profiles on Facebook and linking them via the Facebook app. Additionally, this was the first time that we did campaign style posters for get out the vote drives. We also worked a lot on branding with the candidates, advising them on ways that they could engage the students to drive them to vote.
How do you feel about the fact that only 900 or so students voted?
The number of students that voted this year is really disappointing. It’s significantly lower than the number we would have liked to see. But it’s in line with the downward trend we have seen in recent years. With the increase in publicity we were hoping to stop that trend. Obviously that didn’t happen. As far as the number of candidates, it was average. When there are more candidates we often see more turnout. When it is a national election year, we see an increase in both. This year however is something that we’ll have to work on. It’s a sign that were going to have to make significant changes in the AS in the years to come with regard to candidates and elections.
Do you have a personal opinion as to why students did not vote this year?
I feel like students this year were less concerned with the issues on the ballot as far as referendums go. Usually when something like fee increases are included we see a lot of turnout. This year there weren’t any of those measures. I think another problem though is that students generally don’t know what the AS board positions do.
What do you think can be done in the future to increase voter engagement?
I think making the Board of Directors into an organization with higher profiles. Further, the demonstrative lack of student engagement in AS events is something that we need to address as an organization.
Q&A with Mason Luvera, AS Communications Director
How is the voting branded and promoted throughout campus?
The elections period is branded by a couple of different areas. It’s through the REP [Representation and Engagement Programs], but it also goes through the Communications Office. We do it with a bit of a different approach. They do posters, banners, events and things like that. We do all of the strategic communication and try to make sure that there is equal access to all of the student media. We do this with on campus things like the Western Front, but we also use things like social media.
Did you do anything differently this year? And if so, how effective do you think your changes were?
We did a lot more this year than we did last year. We decided to take on the social media campaign. We tried to think outside of the box and communicate how candidates could meet student needs. This year we definitely had a more hands-on approach on the candidate’s topics. We tried to stay in contact with all of the relevant parties and communicate our actions accordingly.
What was your ultimate reaction to the fact that only 900 or so students voted?
I think that we were disappointed that only 900 or so students voted. Obviously it was our plan to get 100 percent student participation, so to see turnout go down again it’s disappointing. Our office discussed why that was and we concluded that there must be other reasons within the AS that are causing the decline. We don’t really know what it is, but we do know that the Associated Students is looking into it.
Do you have any ideas on how more students could be reached next year?
Our student body is ever changing. New students join, old students leave. So it’s hard to create any standardized branding campaign that will work every year. There are constants like Facebook, Twitter, and email. But what the students are interested in changes every year. So it’s really difficult for any communications strategy to be implemented when you don’t have that baseline consistency. For next year we are going to try and utilize our office to communicate with the elections director and emphasize the importance of elections and what the board members do. What we realized this year is that we spent a lot of time telling students to get out there and vote, but not explaining what they were voting for. So a big emphasis for next year will be rebranding the candidates and the positions into things that the students can understand and feel invested in.