Editorial 4.12.13: Low voter turnout due to more than shortened campaigns

This year’s Student Body Officer campaign was missing one crucial element: the campaign.

Common areas, hallways and sidewalks were notably bare of any advertisements the past couple weeks, especially in comparison to recent years. And that may lie heavily in the fact that candidates had only one week to campaign instead of two. While this one week adjustment may be the new norm for the next couple years, it could also further undermine the integrity of the process and of Student Senate itself.

For those students who knew the candidates personally and wanted to vote for them, the allotted one week for campaigning wasn’t an issue. But for others who did not vote, an additional week to get to know the candidates’ names and platforms may have pushed them to participate.

In addition, one more week of campaigning may have brought in votes from those who had no idea an election was even going on. And it may have given every candidate the chance he or she deserved to express goals to the student body.

The elections are often labeled a popularity contest, and whether or not that extra week changes that perception, losing it certainly doesn’t help.

A two week campaign can provide time for a thoughtful debate and even a little creative marketing; one week provides about enough time to send a Facebook invite to all your friends telling them who to vote for. And that defeats the purpose of having a campaign in the first place.

If you compare this year’s total number of votes to last year, there is an incredibly stark contrast. In 2010, 1,625 students voted in the election, and there was no runoff. In 2011, 2,187 students voted in the runoff. In 2012, that runoff number came in at 1,482 votes. And this year brought in a measly 759 votes in the runoff. That drop-off may be a symptom of a campaign time cut short. But it’s very likely an indication of something more.

Perhaps it was the lack of candidate visibility during the campaign, but even more so, senate’s lack of visibility throughout the year. If senate wants students to pay attention, it has to make them take notice. That engagement, more than anything, is going to be crucial to the new senate leadership.

Without a finger on the pulse of the student body, senate will lack direction. And if the voter turnout for this year’s election is any indication of what’s to come, the student body officers and senators will have a lot of work to do right off the bat.

One more week to campaign may have made a couple hundred more students take notice, log in and vote. But a truly engaged senate may actually keep their attention.