With a flurry of cheers, cries and red streaks covering the walls, you would have thought that Philadelphia was setting out to march on Broad Street for a reenactment of the 2008 Phillies World Series parade – but, unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Rather, this was the university’s annual student government election, where Temple students had the opportunity to elect a new student body president and co-vice presidents.
But, as another year passed, voter turnout dropped again to a count of 1,716 – and yes, that’s out of the roughly 27,500 undergraduates who were eligible to vote. At a rate of nearly 6 percent, it’s important to ask: At such a large university, why is the voter turnout so low?
In general, undergraduate student government elections aren’t known to attract droves of students. According to a 2005 University of Iowa study in which dozens of U.S. universities were sampled, the average voter turnout was 18.8 percent.
As an umbrella organization that represents other student organizations and the student body, Temple Student Government consists of 26 individuals working in various wings of the administration.
The elections catapulted the TU Believe ticket into the spotlight. Vice President of External Affairs-elect Julia Crusor said the party would focus on campus development, dining experiences and a Big Brother, Big Sister-esque program for students.
Since these initiatives apply to the average Temple student, one would think there would be a much more active voting population among Main Campus students – but the fact remains that there is not.
Take, for instance, continuing studies student Logan Monighan, who, like myself, was stunned upon receiving an email on the day of the election. It was the first time she had even heard about the elections.
To her, something seemed different about the elections – primarily, the lack of publicity.
“I feel that at the Student Center they usually have bulletins of things that are coming up, but I’m not in there very frequently so I can’t speak,” Monighan said. “I’ve seen billboards for other organizations but nothing campus-wide [about the elections].”
Just months ago, the Student Center was filled with an inordinate number of billboards with the word “Homecoming” on them. Homecoming, a relatively unimportant event where students elect a Homecoming king and queen – fairly ceremonial titles – garnered more attention than the elections, which have a direct impact on 27,500 undergraduates. Posters were displayed at the Student Center and students stood by the Bell Tower and Liacouras Walk canvassing for hours – all over a minor event.
Students like Monighan are not anomalies. In fact, for an event that impacts such a large number of people, students are stuck searching for information that should be more openly avilable. Still, it’s not as one-sided as it may seem.
Election Commissioner of Promotions DeVaun Brown admitted that, because of the lack of time in preparation, the turnout “was really disappointing.” Brown also explained another quandary stifling the elections: “You have students that may want to get involved who just don’t know, and then you have students who do know but don’t want to get involved.”
Reaching only a small amount of the student population inadvertently means that, as Brown said, only campus-engaged students vote. Considering that the TSG president also receives a non-voting seat on the Board of Trustees, it’s evident that the organization has a decent amount of representation at Temple and it’s necessary that students invest in clicking a few links and listening to a debate or two. After all, it’s their university, too.
“Usually the people who do run are involved and the people who support them know them personally,” Brown said.
Again, students do have a voice, but the difficulty lies in finding out where to vote and making the process more accessible and fluid.
Even though TSG should make information more widely known, students should also take the opportunity to reach out and engage themselves in a process that affects them.
While TSG has a voice on Main Campus, as do students, it’s clear that when it comes to the elections, both sides are muffled.
Romsin McQuade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.