BY ROBIN VEECK
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 16, 2010
Correction Appended: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the questions appearing on the LSA ballot. The ballot questions include a proposal to dissuade professors from holding exams on election days. The article also incorrectly identified Michigan Student Assembly Election Chair Sagar Deshpande.
This fall the Michigan Student Assembly, University of Michigan Engineering Council, and LSA Student Government have been working together to improve traditionally low turnouts for the fall student government elections taking place today and tomorrow.
Voter turnout is typically higher for winter elections, when presidential and vice-presidential candidates for MSA and LSA-SG are up for election in March. Due to the adoption of a new compiled code, starting next year MSA will no longer hold November elections and will instead hold elections for all assembly and executive board seats once each winter.
Last November, only about 9 percent of the eligible student body voted in student government elections.
This week, 32 MSA representative seats are up for election, as well as seats on LSA-SG and UMEC. The LSA ballot also includes a list of questions about potential changes to the LSA Course Guide and off-campus dining.
MSA Election Director Sagar Deshpande said some students might not vote in student government elections because they aren’t aware of the role MSA plays in student life.
“The average student doesn’t realize the full value and potential of MSA,” Deshpande said. “A lot of students have complaints about the University. They complain that tuition is too high, obviously. They complain that they don’t like things about how the campus, the way it’s run. But very few of them realize there’s a way to bring these concerns to the administration, and it’s called MSA.”
UMEC President Dara Fisher said that UMEC faces a similar problem within the College of Engineering because many Engineering students know little about the school’s student government.
“The issue with UMEC is that we really have been working on our visibility within the College of Engineering but we still have a long way to go,” Fisher said. “Being the College of Engineering student government is a tough job, and we’ve tried to do student outreach. But a lot of people still don’t really know what UMEC is. We’re trying to improve that and improve UMEC as a result.”
Student government leaders and election directors have been coordinating their efforts to advertise elections with flyers and events, according to LSA-SG President Steven Benson.
“Everyone working together for the student body to get together and vote is something that has never really been done before,” Benson said. “It’s usually individual governments campaigning for their individual elections.”
Zac Berlin, LSA-SG election director, said that student government leaders hope that increased communication between various student governments and pooled funding will be more effective in attracting students to vote in fall elections.
Benson added that the wide range of advertisements around the campus community are geared toward promoting the act of voting in student government elections.
“If you’ve noticed, all the campaign efforts, like, as little as the Facebook advertising to as big as the flyers we’re making, don’t necessarily say ‘Vote LSA Student Government Elections,’ ‘Vote UMEC Elections,' ” Benson said. “They say ‘Vote in the Student Government Elections in General’.”
Deshpande said that another major strategy for improving voter turnout was recruiting candidates that would campaign competitively.
“What we focused on this year was actually getting as many candidates as possible to run for elections because we can advertise the elections as much as we want, but there is a significant proportion of the student body who just doesn’t pay attention,” Deshpande said.
He added that advertising is not only key in getting students to vote but it also provides a forum for candidates to promote themselves over their opponents.
“In hotly contested elections, when all these candidates are running, they have lots of competition, advertising, they’re trying to get as many people as possible to vote for them. That really drives up voter turnout,” Deshpande said.
Additionally, Deshpande has sent out two campus-wide e-mails reminding students about elections and he said he plans to send one more out tomorrow.
UMEC Vice President and Elections Chairperson Aristo Chang said that UMEC had 15.7-percent eligible voter turnout for elections last fall, higher than both LSA-SG or MSA. He added that he hopes to build on that level of voter turnout for today’s election.
“It was a pretty huge increase, and a lot of that is two things: there was a stronger push from the executive board in terms of advertising the actual elections, and another side was the competition within the actual elections, the people running and actually campaigning and promoting the elections,” Chang said.
UMEC is hosting a grilled cheese lunch today in the Duderstadt Connector from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to advertise elections. UMEC members will be making free sandwiches for students, and candidate posters will be displayed.
While Deshpande hopes voter turnout for MSA elections will increase to 15 percent this year and Fisher says that UMEC is aiming for 20 percent, Berlin said he has a more ambitious goal.
“Obviously, everyone should be voting so 100-percent voter turnout would be awesome,” Berlin said. “I don’t know how realistic that is.”
In an e-mail interview, MSA President Chris Armstrong, echoed Berlin’s sentiment, writing that the “elections are about maintaining the strength of and amplifying the student voice.”
“It is only so often that students have the chance to voice their opinions in the affairs of the University,” Armstrong wrote. “These elections are the chance for students to pick those voices. Through their votes for MSA representation, students will impact the decisions that are made at the administrative level.”
Students can vote in student government elections online at vote.umich.edu. Polls opened at midnight and will close at 11:59 p.m. tomorrow.