The Michigan Student Assembly held midterm elections last week — but apparently only 10 percent of students cared, even though this will be the last year that midterms are held. On Nov. 16, MSA adopted significant changes to its structure, including the elimination of midterm elections. Scrapping the November elections was a good move, but the change can’t overshadow the low voter turnout in MSA elections — which has been abysmal for years. MSA needs to become more relevant to the student body to encourage participation. At the same time, in order for the students to hold MSA representatives accountable, they need to vote in every election.
Last week, several student governments held midterm elections, including MSA, the University of Michigan Engineering Council, Rackham Student Government and the LSA Student Government. Final figures on MSA election turnout were delayed because of technical difficulties that prevented students in the College of Nursing from voting. Results released to the Daily showed that voter turnout this semester was 10.2 percent. Last year, the midterm elections garnered a 9-percent turnout. In March, when the MSA president and vice president were elected, 14 percent of students voted — the highest percentage any MSA election had seen in years.
This year is the last year that November elections will be held. The Daily reported on Wednesday that MSA voted to implement a new compiled code to improve voter turnout and restructure its legislative and executive branches. Among the new rules was a provision to eliminate November midterm elections. Changes are slated to take effect in March.
Getting rid of the midterm elections is a smart decision. Because fewer and less visible seats are filled, students know even less about candidates than they do in the spring elections. In essence, the dismally low turnout and lack of awareness about the midterm elections renders them useless. MSA has recognized this ineffectiveness and changed the policy. Now, students will only have one election to keep track of — the general election. This may help increase voter turnout by adding more weight to the March general election.
For this midterm election, MSA worked with UMEC, LSA-SG and other organizations to increase voter turnout. Student government publicized the election through flyers, Facebook and e-mails. They hoped that election results and voter turnout statistics would show that advertising campaign was effective. But there was only a 1-percent increase from last year.
10-percent turnout — though it’s better than last year’s midterms — is still terrible. MSA has the potential to be an integral part of the connection between students and the University administration — and students need to recognize this. Voting is the only way for students to hold MSA representatives accountable for their actions. If students don’t vote, MSA won’t be able to gain legitimacy because it won’t be responding directly to students’ wants and needs.
But MSA also needs to improve its relevance. The organization must aggressively campaign for reforms like open housing (formerly known as gender-neutral housing), provide students with interesting activities and increase the amount of money it distributes to student groups.
MSA needs to step up — but so do students. When the winter elections roll around, let’s hope that more than a tenth of the student population shows up at the polls.