Students react to low USG voter turnout

Hannah Kelling

Out of more than 20,000 students on Kent’s main campus, only 1,446 students voted for the executive director in the USG elections March 5, according the USG webpage. Campaigning efforts prompted a flurry of activity since early February.

“To be honest, I was hoping for more voters this year,” said Joseph Bizjak, newly elected director of governmental affairs, in an email. “Every year, a few dozen passionate students subject themselves to the undergraduate student populace through questioning, campaigning. Every year, a new government is chosen with less people than years before.”

Bizjak, who spent an estimated 14 hours per week on his campaign while balancing RA duties and classes said he was “a little disturbed, but more disappointed.” He hoped for a voter turnout over 2,000, but instead saw the numbers fall below even last year’s totals of 1,749.

Yet, even a small turnout is still a turnout. Something must have brought those 1,446 students to the Flashline voting station. For sophomore pre-nursing major Leah Wilson, multiple points of contact with the campaigning scene made voting a natural turn of events.

“I know the Greek community paid a lot of attention to it,” said Wilson, a member of the Tri Sigma sorority. “A lot of people who ran had Greek affiliations. If you’re representing us as students, they’re doubly representing us as Greek students.”

Wilson, who is also a member of the Kent State Republicans, said candidates campaigned heavily in the Greek community. But for students who weren’t part of a targeted group, it would’ve taken much more convincing to find the elections important.

And so USG students and advisors ask the question: What more can be done to rally students to support their representative body? With regular profiles appearing in the paper, public forums for candidates to discuss platforms, and fliers being handed out like free candy on the Esplanade, some are beginning to wonder why the apathy still festers.

Braylee Miller, a sophomore early childhood education major, seemed flustered as she tried to explain her own uncast vote.

“[Newly elected executive director] Amish [Patel] even came and talked to one of my organizations,” Miller said. “I just didn’t vote.”

A member of the Kent State student ambassadors and a resident assistant in Centennial B, Miller is involved on campus and was aware of the USG campaigns. In fact, she said one of her fellow RA’s was full of enthusiasm for the races. Yet, Miller found herself a little underwhelmed.

“I know what they do, but I just don’t see them doing much,” she said.

The issue of visibility was a top concern to Rachel Jamison, a sophomore public health major, who suggested the roles of the USG members are too vague.

“I guess I don’t really see the importance of student government within your own college,” she said.

Students had approached her with petitions, Janison said. But, without knowing their platforms and intentions, her will to vote just wasn’t there.

“I didn’t see who was more qualified,” she said. “Why would I sign it?”

She suggested that USG create a website detailing the campaign of each student, making the personal profiles more accessible to the busy student.

Though other factors may have kept that 93.2% away from the polls that day, Bizjak agreed that visibility will be a top priority in the upcoming year. In his mind, the chance to vote is a chance for students to hold USG accountable for its actions.

“This is the time for the students to speak and be heard the loudest,” Bizjak said.

Contact Hannah Kelling at [email protected].