Student government elections ended last week with a total of 1,955 votes, the lowest overall voter turnout since 2008, despite each student government branch publicly declaring a focus on student engagement. Executive ticket candidates cited a lack of student interest, the competitiveness of elections and nuances in each campus's culture as reasons for the low turnout.
The Tempe campus tallied 446 votes this year, much less than last year's 4,526 votes, while the Downtown Phoenix campus racked up 217 votes. That said, those campuses had uncontested executive tickets. Polytechnic, West and Graduate and Professional Student Association contested tickets and each increased the number of votes from last year.
Angelica Cabral, the vice president of policy-elect for USG Downtown, said vote totals could have been higher if the ticket was contested and if students at the campus were more involved.
"Downtown is often called the pre-professional campus, so I think that in a lot of ways people are more looking to the future and not caring so much about what happens on campus,” Cabral said.
Cabral said though the ticket she ran on didn’t have an opponent, it was still important to spread information about student government to students through tabling, t-shirts, social media pages, posters and a Q&A with The State Press.
“Even though we were running uncontested, we ran our campaign like we normally would,” Cabral said. “We want people to know who we are, because we would win, we are the resources for next year.”
The Tempe campus election was also uncontested and its voter turnout was low compared to past years. The lone executive ticket featured Allison Sorgeloos, John Gimenez and Logan Miller. The ticket also made shirts, social media pages and participated in a Q&A with The State Press.
Current USG Tempe Chief of Staff Ricardo Flores said students fall into two extremes of involvement: either they're invested in local, national and student politics, or burnt out by the scene altogether. Students understand that elected officials represent their interests, Flores said, but many don’t want anything to do with politics.
Flores said students know more about the elections if there are multiple tickets, because it’s more interesting than an uncontested ticket.
“The only way that people can aggressively hear about who is running would be through, ‘Oh I have these two tickets to choose from rather than there is one person running and here are their thought processes on things for next year',” Flores said.
This year GPSA and West and Polytechnic campuses had contested elections and saw an increase in voter turnout compared to last year. Daniel Pasco, the USG Polytechnic president-elect, focused on campus canvasing, placing more value in that than the other voter outreach strategies used by other tickets.
“The social media, the website — all that stuff is great and can definitely help a campaign but there’s nothing that replaces talking to students face-to-face whether they are going to the Union, class or wherever,” Pasco said.
He said this year he talked to students, asking them simple questions about how much they know about USG. Pasco said many times students said they didn’t know what exactly USG does.
Cabral echoed that point and said students should care about the happenings within student government because it serves a significant purpose and can bring lasting change to student life on campus.
“I think if you come into it with the perspective of ‘Oh yeah this is a high school thing’ – because in my high school all they did was plan spirit week and stuff – here we literally go down to the Capitol and we do voter registration, so this is operating at a much larger scale,” Cabral said.