It wasn’t until Monday of last week that I realized it was election season for Student Government Board.
I, along with all 19,325 of my peers, are responsible today for voting in a new student body president who will be a voice for all undergraduates on campus.
Although I thought the reason I didn’t know it was election season would have a simple explanation, I realized student voter turnout is typically affected by several elements — the students themselves, the slates’ promotion of their own initiatives and the election committee’s promotion of the election in general. The conjunction of these three means it is essential that SGB and slates evaluate their processes to make improvements and potential voters take their role in the election more seriously. While SGB itself does some work to boost participation, it’s obviously not enough.
Regardless of the nuances in the election process, the fraction of students who vote to determine the new student body president each year needs to increase. One of the staples of a democracy is hearing the voice of the people, and the voting process enables that.
Slates, however, cannot take full responsibility. Slates did reach out to some students, and it is now those students’ job to use the information given to ask further questions or look at the resources on the SGB website. As voters, it is students’ job to stay as informed as possible with the intention of eventually casting a vote.
Pitt students’ turnout in previous elections doesn’t inspire confidence that more students will go to the polls today. Last year’s elections doubled the voter participation rate to a measly 28.76 percent. The year before, 2016, only had about 2,665 voters, which didn’t leave a very high standard to surpass. In other words, it wouldn’t be abnormal for this year to see SGB elections receive low voter turnout.
Even last year’s relatively high voter turnout for SGB elections wasn’t all that impressive in full context. Pitt’s turnout rate of close to 29 percent is comparatively unimpressive when juxtaposed with 58 percent voter participation at Notre Dame, a fellow ACC school.
To help reduce this margin, every slate needs to demonstrate its willingness to make a difference on campus to as many students as possible. The burden of getting more informed voters involved in the election process is on the slates’ shoulders. Since SGB does not advertise the initiatives of each slate, it is the slates’ responsibility to adequately promote themselves to the student body.
Even with SGB’s efforts to facilitate the election, their reach among undergraduates is minimal at best. It has a generally low weekly meeting attendance from participants outside the organization and only slightly more than 1,800 followers on Twitter. It’s unlikely many students see attempts to open the slates up to a wider audience. So while SGB goes out of its way to post updates, create stickers and T-shirts, facilitate events to meet the candidates and host debates about the elections, for the most part each slate is responsible for fostering student interest in its cause and representing issues all students can resonate with.
According to junior politics and philosophy major Anastasia Bodea Crisan, who serves as chair of the SGB Elections Committee, her committee essentially has two phases. The first is during the fall semester, when the committee encourages students to get involved in SGB as an organization. The second is during the spring, when it focuses specifically on encouraging students to either run in the election or vote for the candidates.
When it comes to overseeing the election, the election committee can’t advertise specifically for any one slate, so it pushes for students to get engaged in the voting process. This is done through tabling in the lobby of Litchfield Towers, sending out emails to students and posting updates to SGB’s social media platforms.
Bodea Crisan says students should learn candidates’ initiatives by visiting the SGB website, attending one of the events put together by SGB or reaching out to the slate personally. She believes once students learn about the different initiatives, they will feel more strongly about voting for a given slate.
But relying on individual students to educate themselves about the candidates and stay involved enough to go out of their way to cast a vote isn’t a realistic option given the various other stresses already in our lives. Some students — myself included — didn’t even know that elections were happening until now. Some might still not know its going on — and it’s difficult to get involved in something you don’t know exists.
If there’s any hope for improving student participation in elections, it lies in improving how slates interact as an intermediary between student voters and student government. Regardless of the election committee, it’s the job of each slate and its members to garner the support and overall interest in their initiatives from students on campus. The emphasis is on the slates because they decide everything about the campaign, from when and where to do club presentations to general promotion of their initiatives.
While increasing student turnout will take a sustained and continued effort from students, slates and Student Government Board, one solution is for slates to work with other, smaller organizations in ways that get students to care about their representation on campus.
Regardless of how active slates have been in getting their messages out, students who are aware of the election and the different candidates should go out and vote. Organizations can only do so much to make information available to everyone. It is ultimately up to you to take the information you have and support Pitt’s democratic system.
Anne Marie primarily writes about gender and student issues for The Pitt News. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.