Avoter turnout of 28.8 per cent meant that the Students’ Union saw its highest voter turnout in the past three years. While this is an obviously dismal proportion, even by apathetic Albertan standards, the situation is not as bad as you might think.
There is more than enough information to cast an informed ballot. Posters plaster the hallways. The Gauntlet runs an election supplement. Candidates answer questions during conveniently located forums. The SU posts every single candidate’s platform on their website. CJSW interviews everyone running. The candidates walk up and down the halls, talking to students and canvassing opinions. The Political Science Association puts up posters reminding students to vote.
By the time we actually start voting, the process is ridiculously easy — sure, you can cast a ballot in one of the voting stations, but you can also vote on your student centre, where a giant button reminds you to vote.
There’s no excuse for not casting an informed vote. If a student made it through elections week without knowing anything about the election or the candidates, it’s likely they could not care less.
Dragging an apathetic student body to the polls doesn’t translate into a well-selected government. You only have to look at the results of this year’s election, where a candidate who had dropped out of the race still managed to net 316 votes — a five percent share. The SU shouldn’t be willing to court higher voter turnout if that means dealing with people who cast their ballot for a candidate who is no longer running. I shudder to think about the election results if the SU had been able to vote for Supercow, everyone’s favourite joke candidate.
This isn’t to say that we should discourage voting — but a student government elected based on factors like physical attractiveness, poster size, best puns or overall popularity is a recipe for disaster. Candidates running on increasing student engagement and communication are fighting an uphill battle. How disappointing that they still can’t get 71.2 per cent of students to spend a few minutes to read their platforms and fill out a ballot.
Communication between elected bodies and the people they represent could always use improvement. But our Students’ Union don’t live in an ivory tower, only discussing ideas with students during photogenic moments. Students are encouraged to interact with both the executives and faculty representatives. We’re given multiple opportunities to access the SU, and when we do, our concerns are taken seriously.
So a 28.8 per cent voter turnout is certainly low — even the City of Calgary managed to get out a whopping 39 per cent turnout for the municipal election — but we shouldn’t treat it like some grand failure of communication or democracy.
The average student will never be able to quote sections of the SU’s constitution nor attend every meeting of the Student Legislative Council, but it’s not unreasonable to expect a bare minimum of community engagement from them.
However, we have a better chance of getting a competent and well run SU with a smaller group of voters who are informed about issues than we do with a sky-high voter turnout that elects executives with the best designed posters. Democracy might be a right at the university, but we should remember to treat it as a privilege.