Low turnout in student elections troubling

Students attend the USG debate in the Student Union on February 23, 2017. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

While the final and complete results of the school-wide elections are not yet known, due to administrative action and potential disqualification pending, there have been numbers released that show a glaring level of student disengagement.

Contested races for the positions of undergraduate representative on the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees and Undergraduate Student Government President were on the ballot this past week, along with other important student fee-related referenda. So far, according to the Student Trustee Election Committee (STEC), we know that 4,234 University of Connecticut students from across all campuses – Storrs, Avery Point, Hartford, Stamford, and Waterbury combined - participated in the student elections. Out of 22,284 total eligible student voters, just under 1 in 5 students voted with a 19 percent turnout rate.

This low turnout rate is not new for UConn student elections, but remains troubling. There are many reasons to speculate about that may explain why turnout is so low, and identifying them can lead to solutions to increase it in the future. For one, many students may not fully understand the role of the Board of Trustees, the undergraduate representative on it, or the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). The Board of Trustees make major financial decisions at the university, including tuition and fee increases. It is important to elect a representative who students believe will not only bring their concerns to the table, but advocate for them. Additionally, one of USG’s most important responsibilities is to disperse money to student organizations to fund different activities. If students are more aware of these groups’ true importance, they may be more engaged. Perhaps through more education and outreach from candidates or USG itself before the election, this can be achieved.

A second reason turnout is so low, however, may require a more drastic and long term change: culture. This election season, whether or not any allegations are true or disqualifications go forward, students perceived the elections are extremely negative and dramatic in tone. This, no doubt, turned many students off from voting. It has been this way for some time, as all major recent student elections have been uncontested, or involved either sanctions or disqualification. Perhaps different election rules can be implemented that make the oversight and process less political and more fair. But even with that, there needs to be a change in the culture starting with USG itself.