Last Friday, as per usual, the Guardian set off to cover the A.S. election results in Price Center East. And while the green-, gold- and blue-clad group in front of Burger King was every bit as exuberantly loud and heartbreakingly depressed as election candidates should be, a cursory glance around the rest of Price Center revealed a markedly different atmosphere. The expressions of the majority of students that Friday ranged from befuddled, to straight-up confused, to obliviously studying.
Given the generally apathetic expressions of the student body, it is no wonder then that our election turnout, at a meager 21.6 percent, hit its lowest point in four years. Alyssa Wing’s victory in 2011-12 saw a turnout of 27 percent, Wafa Ben Hassine’s, 22.7 percent (2010-11) and Utsav Gupta’s, around 23 percent (2009-10).
A number of factors led to such a low turnout. For one, the general election voting came a mere month after the Division-I vote, which had seen the staggeringly high student response of 51.1 percent. If the athletic referendum had been tied in with the general election, much like how the Canyonview and UCEN referendums were tied in with elections in 2011, turnout may have been higher. Of course, there was a number of factors as to why the Division-I vote occurred separately, for one, because A.S. Council wanted it to, but the apathetic reverberations from such a high voter turnout certainly had a negative effect in the end. Most students, burned out from the intense campaigning for and against Division I, had difficulty in creating further interest for something that did not seem as dramatic or single-issue.
Another factor that played into election turnouts is the mobilization of college councils. For the past two elections, the candidate with the strongest college affiliation (who mobilized large slates with names that followed the “verb-the-noun” nomenclature and used the color blue) won out. This theory, of course, focuses solely on President-elect Meggie Le, who often cited her experience with Marshall College Council, and our current President Alyssa Wing, with Warren College.
The validity of these theories aside, it is clear that efforts to reach out to campus constituents can be reformed. Only one-fifth of the students at UCSD care about who controls a yearly budget of $3 million and their Sun God lineup, or at least, only one-fifth cared enough to actually vote. Council’s Library Walk campaign only targeted a select group of students — namely those who forgot that election week was in full swing and accidentally walked through the gauntlet of over-enthusiastic candidates.
In order to most effectively mobilize the greater college campus, a non-biased committee within A.S. Council could be created, so the work would not fall completely on the Advocate General.
Once this committee is created, a greater emphasis could be placed on targeting students in select groups — for instance, in classes. A conflict of interest may prevent candidates from giving press speeches at the beginning of each lecture, but the Advocate General or the new election committee could assign a number of neutral, non-returning members of the council to go up in the beginning of lecture to urge students to vote.
The committee could also focus its efforts on greater publicity for the election events that A.S. Council currently hosts — the presidential and vice presidential debates are prime examples. Every year, the debates are moderated by Guardian staffers, and every year, despite our attempts to “mix it up” by asking the candidates to ask each other questions or by allowing public input, nobody pays attention except for the candidates themselves.
And though an individual focus on specific colleges may not be the end-all-be-all of voter turnout, it certainly targets a specific population (underclassmen in certain colleges) and can dramatically help a slate out to boot. Ride the Tide, with three-fourths of its executive board members as active members of the Marshall college community, is a prime example. So is the fact that two of the very few Student Voice victories this year went to Muir College Council Senators — after all, Muiron Elizabeth Garcia all but led the party this year.
Finally, having larger ballots would likely yield larger turnouts. Instead of having several special elections a year, a larger general election with a few hotly-contested referendums could positively affect voter turnout. Not everybody cares about Division I, or the Canyonview Pool, or even UCEN, but having issues like that on the ballot would prompt students who actually did care to vote, and most importantly, spread the word.
Low voter turnout is a collective action problem that plagues every elective process from college councils to national elections, but effective measures can be taken to combat this problem by narrowing the focus of election campaigns, rather than broadly focusing on the entire college campus.