Staff editorial: Both SU and students should work to improve election turnout

This past Tuesday, while millions of Americans around the country were voting in the 2018 midterm elections, a much more local election also happened on Washington University’s campus. In Student Union’s fall elections, 11 senators, 10 treasurers and one ArtSci Council vice president of academic outreach were elected.

But while early numbers indicate record voter turnout in the statewide and local midterm elections, the numbers for the SU election show a more disappointing reality: Only 1,138 total ballots were cast for the SU elections (17 percent of all students), and a paltry 790 were cast for ArtSci Council, both decreases from last fall.

It goes without saying that poor turnout in student elections is a bad thing. The whole point of SU is to represent the student body’s collective interests and provide access to services for their benefit. The more students that vote in the elections, the more representative of a body it will be.

The blame for the poor turnout can be ascribed to both SU and the student body as a whole. Firstly, for the students, SU could not have made it much easier for you to participate in these elections. A link to the ballot was sent out in a University-wide email the second the polling website was activated, and regular reminders were sent throughout the day. If you could wait in three-hour lines (and many of you did, which is awesome) to vote in the Athletic Complex, you could have taken the time to click the link and vote in the SU elections. You could have even done it while you were waiting in line, and then had 2 hours and 55 minutes to spare.

But the poor turnout does not only reflect badly on the student body. As the long lines to vote on campus demonstrate, Wash. U. students will vote if they are properly motivated. It presents a clear and imperative first task for recently elected SU senators and treasurers, as well as the colleagues they will be joining, to try to tackle. It is also a task with a clear deadline: SU’s spring election day. If the issue is not addressed, another semester will pass without effective elections that reflect the student body as a whole. And without those effective elections, SU positions hold no legitimacy.

One particularly troublesome dilemma that plagued SU elections in past years, most recently ArtSci Council, is the unfortunate combination of multiple people running for one position within a governing body while other roles remain without a single candidate. In the ArtSci Council election, four candidates ran for vice president of academic outreach, leaving the other five positions completely unfilled. In a similar situation, in last year’s SU executive board election, three candidates ran for president while two other positions remained uncontested and two without candidates. It is hard to ask for voter enthusiasm if the candidates themselves are only enthusiastic about one or two positions.

Luckily, SU can take concrete steps to increase both recruitment and turnout. By increasing transparency and visibility, SU can create a more tangible link from Senate, Treasury and ArtSci Council to the general student body. If SU bodies can accomplish concrete things and communicate them well to the rest of the University, students will be more likely to take an active interest in the elections, and some may even want to run.

A recent step in this direction has been senator-specific personal projects, and SU should absolutely continue in this way. SU senators should make it a point not only to make sure that Senate is accomplishing concrete, identifiable projects—like the ones currently listed under the “initiatives” page on its website—but that students know about them.

Pursuant to strengthening its link with the University, SU can also continue to work towards greater transparency. The recent resolution to livestream Senate meetings was a step in the right direction. Hiring someone to take full minutes during meetings, instead of the very abbreviated documents currently posted, would be another excellent step.

In short, both SU and students can take steps to make SU elections. Ultimately, it is important that turnout is as high as possible in these elections so that the bodies are as representative of the students’ wants as possible. After all, everything SU does is funded by money that students have already paid.

Correction: This article has been edited to reflect that the SU livestreaming resolution only applies to Senate meetings, not Treasury meetings.

  • Mona

    Interesting, think I can use this info in my project