The missing voters in SGA's executive elections

Sun, 2017/04/16
Viktor Koves

When election results came in for the new SGA executive board some time ago, many students were surprised by the outcomes. Although most students are aware of the voter turnout of SGA elections, most are not aware of the trends of how students vote, specifically how voters abstain on positions in SGA executive elections.

It is important to first look at voter turnout for the SGA executive elections, specifically the percentage of eligible voters who went and voted. From published data after the elections provided by SGA, we know that 1,045 votes were counted in this year’s elections. From student enrollment data the university provides, we know that in Fall 2016 there were 7,809 total students in the university, who are all eligible to vote. However, undergraduate students are far more likely to vote in SGA elections as they are often more directly impacted by student government and remain at the university for longer than most graduate students do. According to the University’s quick facts, there were 2,800 students enrolled pursuing Bachelor’s degrees, and an additional 177 undergraduates consisting of visiting undergraduate students and non-degree seeking undergraduate students, yielding a total of 2,977 undergraduate students. This means that of eligible undergraduate students, 35% cast votes in the SGA election, while 13.4% of all students cast votes.

Of the 1,045 votes cast, however, most of them were not actually complete ballots. Using anonymized ballot data, we can compute that the average ballot abstained on 1.43 positions out of the six positions available on the SGA ballot. It is worth noting, however, that the Vice President of Communications positions was uncontested, and had much higher abstain rates than the other positions, skewing the average. With abstains for the Vice President of Communications not considered, the average ballot had 1.06 abstentions.

More interesting, around 100 votes were cast for only one position, with abstains marked for the other positions. For the President, Executive Vice President, and Vice President of Student Life positions, the number of abstain votes in the position races was larger than the lead the winning candidate had over the second candidate. This means that the abstain votes for these positions could have changed the election outcomes altogether.

All of this may seem grim, but it is worth looking at the history of SGA executive elections. In the 2016 executive elections 1,170 votes were cast, while a mere 508 votes were cast in the 2015 elections. These historical turnouts indicate that SGA has struggled with voter turnout in the past, but has made improvements that have helped improve participation. SGA must continue to increase participation in elections by improving publicity and making the elections accessible, while individual students must take personal responsibility for being informed in the SGA elections and voting for all of the available positions.