UMSU election voter turnout beats 2010 levels

While voter turnout in the UMSU election has been historically low, one student felt compelled to get her peers out to the polls.

Enlisted by no one but herself, Liz Wallis, a third-year English major at the University of Manitoba, decided to go class to class telling students about the importance of voting.

“Most classes sort of looked at me like I was off my rocker but that’s fine,” said Wallis.

Wallis said she was motivated by the voter apathy she saw in typical UMSU election.

“Most people don’t see a purpose to the UMSU elections, that’s why we don’t see a big voter turnout, if they don’t see a purpose to voting.”

“UMSU’s supposed to represent us, but if you don’t vote for your representative and they do a bad job or a good job representing you, either way, you [ . . . ] deprive yourself of the right to really participate in the process.”

With 3,202 voters casting ballots, voter turnout this year was 12.5 per cent, based on preliminary data, which is a slight increase from last year’s turnout of 10.4 per cent.

Chief returning officer Jason van Rooy felt that the increase in turnout for the 2011 election was “[ . . . ] because of the efforts of the three slates and their volunteers.”

“I was handed 12 handbills [Wednesday] and I’m the CRO.”

However, Clean Slate presidential candidate Tyler Omichinski said he was disappointed by the voter turnout, especially with three slates running and offering different things.

“I had really hoped there would be more people coming out to vote. I think it’s a really difficult situation to be in because whoever wins has to deal with that apathy and the ding to legitimacy that they will have to face in negotiations and representing the students,” explained Omichinski.

When asked about voter turnout, Get More presidential candidate Delaney Coelho said she was also disappointed by the relatively small number of students who chose to cast their ballots in this year’s election.

“Unfortunately, I do not think the election process is conducive to engaging students, but I hope that is something that changes for the next election.”
Van Rooy explained that since elections and UMSU are separate from one another, “kind of like church and state,” the job of raising awareness about UMSU elections falls on his office.

“If I would guess, that’s probably why you don’t see a lot of election stuff in the first half of the year, because the CRO isn’t appointed until November or December,” said van Rooy.

Van Rooy felt that it might be beneficial for UMSU to work on educating students on the elections earlier in year during events such as orientation, though the fact that University 1 organizes orientation might pose as a barrier.
“There’s a couple of clear separations between orientation and UMSU, but if we could maybe traverse those separations and break those barriers, we could probably increase awareness earlier in the year,” said van Rooy.

When asked if a longer campaign period might help encourage student engagement in the elections, van Rooy said he thought “that could be a way to go.”

“That certainly would increase awareness because you would be able to reach more students with more time,” he said.

The campaign period for this year’s election ran from Feb. 28 until polling stations closed on March 11.

Van Rooy also pointed out that the fact that elections are currently centred around Reading Week could also be part of the reason voter turnout is traditionally low, “so certainly there’s always an opportunity for UMSU council to look at the schedule and when things happen and for how long.”

Current UMSU president Heather Laube explained that the campaign length is decided by the policy and bylaws committee of UMSU council, which determined the current length during their 2008-09 review of the UMSU Bylaws.

“They chose to maintain the length of the campaign period, but there is nothing restricting it from being changed in the future,” said Laube.

Laube noted that having longer campaigns “exhaust not only candidates and campaign teams, but also students who are constantly inundated with campaign materials.”

However, she also pointed out that running shorter campaigns might increase “the risk of not getting awareness about the democratic process and candidates out to students to help them make an informed decision.”

In her time serving as both vice-president (student services) and president of UMSU, Laube has survived two election campaigns.
“Some students would say, ‘I don’t know much about UMSU’ [or] ‘I am not sure why I should vote,’ as reasons why they were hesitant to cast their ballot. However, I found that many students do care and are aware about UMSU, but are busy with studies, work and other activities that keep them from being fully engaged,” said Laube.
“For the candidates, it’s about engaging students on issues that matter to them and creating more awareness on the importance of having effective representation.”