Voter turnout at this year’s WUSA general elections was 3.28 per cent — almost a whole per cent drop from last year, and the lowest it has been in a general election since at least 2014.
Last year the low turnout was attributed by some to the fact that it was a transitionary year for WUSA with the new governance model as well as the fact it was a summer election. However, the new governance structure was supposed to improve engagement.
Former WUSA president Benjamin Easton had said, “The new [WUSA governance] model is conducive to [increasing voter turnout], where there is a greater amount of competition, which generally increases turnout.”
Current WUSA president Stephanie Ye-Mowe expressed her disappointment at the low turnout and explained that the WUSA staff had put in a lot of effort towards raising awareness about the election. “A lot of the staff at WUSA put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into providing opportunities for candidates to really showcase themselves. All of our social media and awareness of things were up early on, like they really were trying to be innovative with it. So I don’t think that the turnout is for lack of effort.”
Ye-Mowe added that the lower voter turnout compared to last year could be attributed to the fact that there were fewer eligible voters in the spring term.
While it is true that there were fewer eligible voters with 29,635 voters last year and 35,160 eligible voters this year, in terms of absolute numbers, the number of ballots cast went down from 1,372 last year to 1,155 this year.
Ye-Mowe also felt that, alongside WUSA, the blame for low turnout also lies with the candidates who did not engage and the larger student body which refused to engage. “I will challenge the folks who are running like we saw, you know, a lot of candidates didn’t put out their profiles. Like it was a simple thing to do, it was the most easily accessible way for voters to find out about you. I understand that for some people, their voter base is more so their friends and folks within their faculty, but you’re gonna represent all students here. And I think students deserve to know what you’re about to make an informed decision.”
Talking about the student body not voting, Ye-Mowe added, “It kind of blows my mind in some ways, because here you have a body of folks that oversees how your money is spent, that oversees how your voice is used, that has a lot of power and influence as a whole — and to not take five minutes out of your day to cast your vote — even by declining your vote that’s still communicating something to WUSA. If you don’t do anything, and you don’t seem to care, you aren’t creating an environment where your directors are going to be accountable.”
“There’s power in our collective voices, there’s power in our views put together, there’s a lot of amazing things that we get to have access to because of that, and … people really need to give a shit,” Ye-Mowe added. “I know that there’s an onus on WUSA to keep making voting more accessible … but there’s only so much that we can do.”
For their next steps, the WUSA marketing and elections team is going to prepare a report for the board with some summary statistics and descriptions of different strategies to see what has worked so far and what hasn’t. Following which, the board will devise a plan to address the low voter turnout.