Guest Column: Low USG voter turnout not result of apathy

Bengt George

Voting for the Undergraduate Student Government elections ended on Tuesday, and more talked about than the prospective winners is the meager (and declining) voter turnout. Fewer than 7 percent of the undergraduate student body cast votes for the directors and senators who will represent them. This drew disapproval from the USG faculty advisor and executive director, but are the students really to blame? I believe that undergraduates do care about the concept of voting for student government; we simply had little reason and insufficient means to do so.

The two-week coverage of all the candidates in the Stater was a great idea, but I feel the wrong questions were asked. All I got from most of the candidates’ profiles was that a USG position would do wonders for their resumes and that they like to talk to students. Focusing on the candidates’ general motivations and across-the-board high qualifications just promoted an air of “anyone of them will do.” I’m not sure many students saw any discernible difference among the hopeful senators in their college. I saw the same problem in campaigning: a lot of names, slogans and token claims about the importance of involvement, but no platforms or statements about what issues they would focus on helping their constituents with. I’m not saying the candidates weren’t all caring and driven individuals; I’m sure they were. But I think there was too much of a struggle to simply get their name out, which led to very little emphasis on the substance of their candidacy. Maybe there were resources I missed out on for finding out the candidates’ deeper areas of interest, but all I saw in the course of my regular campus life was a popularity contest, and voters in a non-mandatory ballot race don’t care about a popularity contest.

That said, I did try multiple times throughout the final week of voting to access the ballot page in hopes of information listed under each candidate, and herein lies a more serious problem. Each time I tried, I was greeted with an external system error — you know that page you sometimes see while scheduling classes early because too many people are doing so at the same time? I’m positive I’m not the only person who ran into this and was subsequently discouraged from voting. University staff has no right to criticize low voting trends when its system can’t even support, on a technological basis, the turnout it would like to see. Also, if this error is less prone to occurrence on campus, there is a fundamental bias against commuter students in the voting process. But I’m not writing this to explicitly place blame or push for USG election reform, just to challenge the sentiment of undergraduate nonvoters being lazy or apathetic that seems to be growing after the release of the voter turnout statistics.

Contact Bengt George at [email protected].