SU’s most competitive fall election in years sees an uptick to 34% voter turnout

| Managing Editor
Patterned chairs sit on a grey rug in a well lit office with desks in the background. A blue wall with "WashU Student Union" written on it stands behind the chairs.

The Student Union office on the second floor of the Danforth University Center. (Photo by Holden Hindes / Student Life)

Turnout in Student Union’s fall elections shot up to 33.84% for a race involving a higher than usual number of candidates and with the divisive issue of Greek Life abolition on the line. 

Over the last five years, turnout has generally hovered between 15% and 25%. The last fall election with a similar level of engagement took place in 2014, with 35.4% turnout.

“The stakes felt much higher than normal,” Election Commissioner sophomore Bonnie Segel wrote in a statement to Student Life. “Instead of everyone on the ballot getting elected simply because they decided to run, this election really was in the hands of the voters.”

A total of 48 candidates participated in the election, with 22 students running for eleven positions in SU Treasury, 20 students running for eleven SU Senate seats and six students running for five positions on ArtSci Council. This level of competition is a sharp contrast to last fall’s election, which included just 30 candidates —14 candidates for Treasury, 11 for Senate and five for ArtSci Council. 

One reason for this higher level of competition was disagreement over the future of Greek Life on campus. Student Union’s current platform calls for the abolition of Greek Life at Washington University, and SU Senate passed a resolution calling for the dehousing of fraternities last year. However, a number of candidates this fall argued that reform, rather than abolition, is the best way forward.

“I think it’s important that we all hold Greek Life accountable, but at the same time, I think it’s important that we’re able to see the positive impact that Greek Life has on this campus,” sophomore Ned Dybala, who was elected to Senate, said at the SU candidate forum, Nov. 15. 

Other candidates disagreed. Sophomore Maddy Kish, who won a Senate seat, described fraternity houses as “sites of violence and trauma [that] should not have a place on our campus” in the voter guide emailed to students ahead of the election.

The election yielded mixed results regarding Greek Life. Of the 13 candidates who expressed pro-reform or other pro-Greek Life positions in the voter guide or during the forum, or otherwise publicly identified themselves as members of Greek Life, two were elected to positions in Senate and three were elected to positions in Treasury. All six of the candidates endorsed by Abolish Greek Life WashU (AGL) in a Nov. 18 Instagram post were elected.

The same post from AGL listed the names of candidates whom the organization identified as members of Greek Life, writing, “They do not represent student voices and should not serve in our student government.” 

Sophomore Aidan Stutts, who won a seat in Treasury, disagreed, arguing that the election results were indicative of the student body’s desire for a larger Greek Life presence on campus. 

“I know many people would love to see the return of [Greek Life] events, which would require SU to take a more favorable stance on Greek Life,” he wrote in a message to Student Life Tuesday.

Two initiatives aimed at boosting engagement this fall were the expansion of the voting period from 24 hours to 96 hours in order to give students more time to vote and the voter guide, a document that gave candidates a chance to explain their policy positions in more detail. Segel added that she hopes the voter guide will continue to have an impact even after the election.

“[I] hope that this guide will serve as a way to hold the newly elected members of SU accountable,” she wrote. “Since we all have access to their campaign goals, it will be interesting to see which representatives actually follow through.”

Segel said that the increased competition of this year’s election made it a much more engaging race for students, and she hopes to replicate this fall’s success in future elections.

“To me, there is little to no reason to vote in an election when the results seem predetermined,” Segel wrote. “It is my goal that future students will look to this election as proof that anyone can run for Student Union and win, and these elections will continue to be competitive so that students can truly feel like their vote matters and feel excited to exercise their right to vote.”

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