Voter turnout hits rock bottom

Last November, our country had one of its most widely followed presidential elections in decades. While it is clear that the Chief Executive is an important part of our government, it is also a fact that the government would not be able to run without the other branches.

For this reason, when “off-year” elections for members of Congress come around, people go out and vote. While the numbers may not be quite as high as the year of a presidential election, people still realize the significance of Congress and pay attention when it comes time to choose their representatives.

In the same way, the election of SGI representatives should not be ignored. They play an equal part in the committees that affect campus organizations and plan campus events.

Unfortunately, a quick glance at the results of this year’s SGI representative elections shows that the event went largely unnoticed by the student body at large.
On March 23 and 24, elections were held for e-board positions in Student Government.

Two weeks later, on April 7 and 8, SGI representative elections took place. A total of 595 people voted overall in the SGI representative elections in the various schools. At St. John’s there are currently about 12,000 undergraduate students enrolled. This means that less than five percent of the student body cast a ballot on April 7 and 8. The figure is disheartening, to say the least.

Now some might argue that the problem ailing this election was the same one that has been plaguing St. John’s and other colleges for the last few years: student apathy.

That may be the case, but it does not change the fact that having two separate elections, with the representative vote set on the last two days before a break, was probably not the best scheduling strategy.

Students live a hectic lifestyle balancing classes with internships or jobs while trying to maintain a social life. Why should they be expected to take time out of their schedules to vote in two separate elections? There does not seem to be any reason why the vote for e-board positions and representatives could not have been combined into one election.

In addition, on the last two days before Easter break, students were looking to get off campus and begin their vacations as soon as possible. Some professors cancelled class on that Wednesday, April 8, meaning that a number of students had no reason to show up on campus that day.

In addition, a few students, especially those who did not schedule Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes for themselves, could have simply skipped over the three days before Easter break to extend their vacation to more than a week.

How could there have possibly been a decent turnout with these conditions hanging over the election days?

The second hit that representative campaigns took was the fact that they were not as well publicized as they could have been. Leading up to the election for the e-board of Student Government, current members of SGI did a good job preparing an ad campaign for the election, focusing not on a specific party but on the students who would only gain by having their voices heard in the selection of next year’s e-board.

A campus-wide informational campaign about the representative elections would have gone a long way to let students know when and where they could vote. As it was, the individual candidates needed to print the time and place of the elections on their own posters along with their reasons why they were the best candidate.

On top of that, the candidates were only allowed to campaign for the week leading up to the election. There is no way that students had enough time to learn about the individual candidates for their school and year in one week.

Having posters put up around campus as the only medium to spread the word about elections was probably not the best way to get students informed and involved. With the multitude of e-mail surveys filling the inboxes of our St. John’s Central accounts, it does not seem like an impossible labor to send online ballots to each student via e-mail.

This year, a major platform objective for SGI candidates was visibility. While this is certainly important for members of the SGI e-board, it is just as important that representatives, who are supposed to be more directly involved with the student body they are serving, are visible on campus. The best place to start would have been the election.

That said, the system for electing SGI representatives seems like it could use a bit of an overhaul. Combining the days for both e-board and representative votes would make informing students about both elections easier.

Limiting campaign time to a single week makes little sense. The more time candidates have to make themselves known on campus, the more students have a chance to get involved.