More students must vote in UB Student Assoication elections
Low voter turnout is becoming growing concern
This year’s recently concluded Student Association election featured just one ticket with experience inside the organization and the lowest voter turnout for a contested election in at least a decade.
It has left us wondering: Where is the student involvement?
SA controls a budget of around $4 million through the mandatory student activity fee of $104.75 a semester. The thought of just one SA-experienced party running for the three top positions in the organization and just six percent of all undergraduate students deciding who fills these positions is off-putting. It’s frankly a bit undemocratic.
Last year, the Unity Party ran unopposed after the Clarity Party, which had no prior SA experience, dropped out of the race before voting ever began. Not surprisingly, only 217 students voted.
This year, the now-elected Progress Party’s competition for president and vice president was the Transparency Party, which had never before been involved in SA. Two independent candidates, who had both been involved in SA, ran against Progress Party’s Dan Emmons for treasurer. Just 1,254 of UB’s nearly 20,000 undergrads voted.
There are a variety of factors that could be the reason fewer candidates within SA are running and fewer students are hitting the polls. The first of course being that millennials, for the most part, just aren’t interested in voting in any kind of election – a concerning trend, especially in a presidential election year.
But we feel there also issues inside SA that are perhaps keeping students from going to the polls.
Yet we also feel there are steps that members of the incoming SA e-board, Senate and Assembly should at least consider to ensure that next year’s elections do not continue this trend of less democracy.
It’s easy to cast aside losing candidates’ complaints, but several of this year’s candidates made valid points that SA does not market its elections enough. There was very little marketing through social media or traditional advertisement. Even this year’s debate was essentially a non-event held in the Student Union lobby without any notice and attended by less than a dozen students at certain points.
We at The Spectrum are happy to do our part every year in providing students with candidate breakdowns notifying them of when the elections will be, but SA must do more on its part as well.
The average students, who are not involved in SA, need to know these elections are happening and decide who plays a large part in controlling where their $104.75 is going. At this point, we’re not sure they do.
A major change to the election process occurred two years ago, when the SA Senate and Assembly decided SUNY delegates would no longer run in the election. The two bodies instead gave the incoming president the power to appoint their own delegates. That’s another eight or so candidates no longer attracting voters into the booths.
Even more problematic is that becoming a SUNY delegate is no longer open to any student. That’s because in order to be a SUNY delegate, a student must have won some kind of school-wide election.
That means only the SA president, vice president, treasurer, 12 SA senators and the UB Council student representative can be appointed as a SUNY delegate.
That makes what used to be a position open for approximately 20,000 students, open to just 16.
An opportunity for the average student to become involved in school- and SUNY-wide student government is no longer there.
The SA Assembly and Senate took SUNY delegates out of the SA elections in the hope it would encourage more students to run for e-board – the thought being that president and vice president candidates no longer had to find four SUNY delegate candidates to run.
Clearly that has not happened though.
In two years without delegates running, there has been an uncontested election and an election with just one SA-experienced party.
We think the senate and assembly should take time before considering putting delegates back into the election though – as candidates running for e-board would sometimes just put students who can bring in the most votes on their ticket to run for SUNY delegate.
The SA Senate and Assembly should consider making an amendment that was passed by the assembly two years ago but never came to fruition: an amendment to have the president and vice president run on separate ballots.
This would allow a president and vice president from different parties to be elected. President and vice president candidates must currently be voted for and elected together as pairs.
The move was passed by the assembly, but due to a misreading of the constitution, was never brought before senate to be approved – a required step.
Despite being universally praised by SA members at the time, the amendment has not been brought back before the senate two years later.
The move should be reconsidered – it would make the process more democratic. Students who like a president from one party and a vice president from an opposing party could then vote for both, instead of having to potentially vote for a tandem. It could also encourage independent president and vice presidents to run – meaning more candidates.
Ultimately, more SA-qualified candidates need to run. The organization is large enough that there should be more than just one party with SA experience running in the election.
If there are groups of students who want the e-board positions and feel they are qualified, they owe it to the student body and the democratic process to put their name on the ballot.
If there are students out there that are aware of the SA elections but are simply choosing not to vote, we hope they reconsider. These elections directly affect their money, regardless if they’re in an SA club or not. Students cannot complain about the mandatory student activity fee or the Fall and Spring Fest lineup if they are not exercising their right to vote.
But it’s on SA to make sure as many students are aware of the elections as possible, and that the elections are as democratic as possible.
The editorial board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.