Election apathy — what is it good for?
by Edward Osborne
There is an election coming up? Big deal.
At least that seems to be the overwhelming opinion around MRU. There is literally no contest for the executive council; each open space has a single person willing to do the job. There’s still going to be an election, and there’s still going to be ballots. There will only be one name on the card, with a yes or no option for voters, but they will still be available to students.
“It is true that all of our candidates are running uncontested,” Shauna Hunter, the chief returning officer of the elections, told The Reflector in an email. “However, they still have to stand a yes/no vote. The student population will have the opportunity to voice, through their vote, whether or not they believe that a candidate should be put into office. As far as the appearance of the physical ballots, each candidate’s name will appear on the ballot with a box for yes and a box for no beside it; the voter will be asked to place an “X” in the yes or no box, depending on their preference.”
There is one candidate running for each of the four executive positions, but only five students running for student council, which actually has 10 spots.
Voter turnout, too, is dropping. Last March, only 5.53 per cent of students voted in the election compared to 10.22 per cent in the by-election in Dec. 2008.
Travis McIntosh, current president of the Students’ Association of MRU, said he sees that downward trend as disheartening.
“The most basic form of democratic interaction is to mark an X in a box,” McIntosh said, “but there’s only so much you can do to induce people.”
Kat Goodfellow is one of those apathetic non-voters. The newly arrived nursing student said she doesn’t feel election information is easily available to her, or that participation in the election would have any effect on her schooling.
“I’m here to become a nurse and only that,” she said. “I don’t care enough and I don’t have enough time.”
This lack of interest isn’t just a problem at Mount Royal. In provincial and federal elections, 18-25 year olds are notorious for being the lowest voting demographic.
Colin Rose is president of the SAIT Students’ Association. They had a six per cent turnout in their 2009 election.
“The main problem is that there’s not a lot of huge topics on campus,” he said. “Student satisfaction with the association is quite high.”
Perhaps there just isn’t much to be done. There’s no need for an Obama, no space for a revolutionary or reformer.
“We’re really maintaining the machine,” said McIntosh. “As an organization we’re doing very well.” A students’ association is a complex force, with its own set of bylaws and administrative protocols. Those sorts of things are unlikely to excite students or lead to riveting power struggles and tense leadership races.
Now, perhaps, it falls to those student representatives to make elections interesting. McIntosh jokes that maybe a student monarchy would work better, or a tribal system where “feats of strength” determine the leader.
Susan Judd, the elections coordinator at the University of Calgary, is trying a number of different methods to increase involvement. Their election turnout was lower than expected last year at 12.5 per cent and they’ve never had more than 20 per cent participation. This year there will be a roving desk offering games and prizes, as an attempt to inform more students about the election.
The Students’ Union hosts workshops to guide candidates into campaigning. Every candidate at the University of Calgary will create a campaign video that will be accessible via YouTube and played throughout the MacEwan Student Centre.
At Mount Royal University, the Students’ Association has “reduced itself to bribery,” jokes McIntosh, handing out cookies and juice in exchange for a marked ballot.
The lack of community on MRU’s campus could be to blame for voter apathy. MRU is a “commuter campus” with only 10 per cent of students living on campus. That means many students come to school, go to class, and then drive home, without getting involved in anything outside the classroom.
“I think we get a better turnout from our full-time than our part-time students,” said Judd about University of Calgary students. “They’re just on campus more.”
The future may not mean the decay of democracy. McIntosh is forecasting a 10 per cent jump in the student population in fall 2010 when those students who would normally transfer to the University of Calgary stay here to finish their degrees. That, and the creation of four-year bachelor degrees will hopefully draw students to be more invested in the community aspect of Mount Royal.
Are you going to vote in the SA election Feb. 1-6, 8-10? Let us know, comment on this story online at thereflector.ca