In the 2012 SU executive elections, voter turnout was 21.6%. Out of roughly 30,000 eligible student voters, only about 6,300 decided to vote. Although I did vote, I can understand why 79% of the University of Alberta student population decided that it had better things to do.
I’ve never been particularly engaged in student politics. Every year, I vote out of a sense of democratic duty – us Political Science majors really love to vote for things – but not because I’m particularly interested in the campaign. I do my due diligence of course, and research the candidates and their platforms, but in the end I just feel like I’m clicking a box on a website without much consequence.
I’ve attended the University of Alberta for four years, and have thus been under four different SU administrations. I could not tell you the difference between any one of them. Sure, we had dodgeball. The Undergraduate Research Symposium has been a great success. Outside of that, however, every year I’m still left asking myself the question what did the SU do this year?
This is not to disparage the work of the Students’ Union executive or the many students who work for the SU. These individuals put incredible time and effort into their positions, and sacrifice a lot to keep the SU running smoothly. There is a lot of good work going on behind the scenes, and unfortunately, for the most part, it goes on thanklessly. The stakes are just too low for the majority of students to put in the time to vote.
No matter how many candidates say that they are going to work hard to engage the campus community, the results will be minimal. Low voter turnout is a common symptom in democracies, and if we can only get 33.4% of Edmontonians to vote for their City Council, 57% of Albertans to vote for their provincial representatives, and 61% of Canadians to vote for their federal representatives, I’d say that 21% isn’t bad. In fact, it’s surprisingly good in comparison to elections with much higher stakes.
While I do hope that this year the candidates are able to engage the unversity population, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if turnout is any more than 2% above last year’s. With a number of races having no contests whatsoever, I wouldn’t be surprised if turnout fell, either.
In the end, there’s not really anything wrong with voter apathy. No one elected to an executive position is going to be disastrous for the university. Each of the candidates are dedicated and driven individuals who want what’s best for the students at the U of A. If only 20% of students decide that they want to vote, that’s okay. They put in the effort to consider multiple candidates, exercised their rights as students and selected the best candidate. The other 80% can rest easy knowing that their Students’ Union is in good hands, even if they don’t know who the hands belong to.
Graeme Archibald is a cynical fourth-year Political Science student who was most excited on his 18th birthday because he had the right to vote.
Creative Commons photograph courtesy of The League of Women’s Voters of California on Flickr.