Fewer UB student leaders step up in this year’s SA elections

Students face two on-campus races with unopposed candidates

saelection

It’s election season at UB and in past years this meant students expected to be bombarded by at least 14 well-dressed and color-coordinated college students with quarter-sheet flyers instructing them to vote. 

Not this year.

There is only one political party urging students to vote; the Unity Party is running unopposed. And because of a new policy the SA president will appoint the SUNY delegates, there are even less people crowding the lobby of the union.

Despite the practically guaranteed win, the Unity Party is still campaigning in the Student Union lobby. Students have the choice to put in a blank ballot if they don’t support Unity. Elections are being held at reduced hours in the Student Union Theater this week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

With fewer candidates, this year’s elections are rather different from years past and some are questioning if its compromises the normal democratic process.

“It bothers me that there is only one party running because we don’t really have a choice,” said Tony Wang, a junior business major who said he probably would have voted for Unity even if another party had run.

The SA elections will not be the only unopposed race this year. The election for UB Council Student representative will feature just one candidate – SA Assembly Speaker Melissa Kathan. Five students ran for the position last year.

All UB undergraduates pay a mandatory student activity fee of $94.75 a semester that funds SA’s more than $3.5 million budget, but just 11.8 percent of students voted in last year’s SA elections when there was a two party race in addition to an independent treasurer ticket. The activity fee is set to go up to $104.75 next semester, giving the new e-board more money to manage than ever before.

The voter turnout percentage may be even lower this year, as the lack options will likely draw even fewer students to the polls.

But it’s not just the SA elections that are having trouble fielding college voters.

Eighteen to 24-year-olds are about the lowest age bracket in terms of their proportion voting across major elections, according to James Battista, an American politics professor at UB.

“Folks have better things to do. This is one of those things that is not rocket science,” Battista said. “What else could you do with your time? For kids [of college] age, there’s a lots of other things you could do with that time.”

Battista said another factor in low voter turnout is because a person’s individual vote is “vanishingly unlikely to affect the outcome” of a public election. He said this was less so with an SA election that is strictly a majority vote among students.

“What’s the payoff if you vote? You feel kind of good because you went out and voted but that’s it,” Battista.

With a lack of candidates, this year’s SA elections are also limiting the affect students votes have on the outcome. Of the 34 students The Spectrum polled after voting Tuesday, 13 said it bothered them only one party was running.

“[Unity is] running unopposed because their opponents dropped out of the race, it’s not necessarily because the process is undemocratic,” said Yaser Soliman, a business administration major and SA senator.

The Clarity Party dropped out last week following the first night of club endorsements. David Perl, Clarity’s treasurer candidate, told The Spectrum last week that he did not think the party’s “dropping out ruins the democratic process.”

“I feel like the democratic process [in SA] is not very strong,” Perl said. “There’s one party that we all know was going to win regardless. The fact that there were only six students out of 20,000 that cared enough to fill out a petition, just kind of shows there’s no much of a process and not great involvement.”

Some thought more candidates than usual would run this year, as parties would no longer have to find four delegates to complete their ticket. Former SA President Travis Nemmer told The Spectrum he was surprised SA could not get two parties to run in a year it was “made easy to run.”

Jalyssa Gordon, a sophomore exercise science major, said it worries her that there are not two sides for students to choose from.

Students who voted Tuesday and spoke with The Spectrum after leaving the polls said they felt it was still important to vote, despite just one party running.

Soliman said he wanted to lead by example and vote.

“It’s still important to have the election, if you don’t have the election, you start this process where it’s a slippery slope,” Soliman said. “We start a process where it eventually leads to loss of interest in student government.”

Chris Lee, a junior mechanical engineering major, said “if no one votes it just shows a lack of effort from the student population.”

Sharon Restrepo, a nursing major, said “it’d be better to see more people” running, and “it doesn’t hurt to vote.”

Battista said usually the circumstances in which only one party or candidates runs in an election is an indication that “the job is not very desirable.”

As for participating in an election by voting, Battista said a lot of time it comes down to students wanting to do other things rather than voting, like hanging out with friends.

“For a lot of young people, a lot of those things are legitimately more attractive than going to go voting,” Battista said.

Tom Dinki is the senior news editor and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com