The 2015 Georgetown University Student Association Senate elections were decided early Friday, with voter turnout plummeting to an abysmal 19 percent, six percentage points lower than last year’s 25 percent. This collective apathy is the consequence of an overwhelming lack of confidence as well as a lack of information among students in this facet of student government. To preserve its legitimacy, and the GUSA Senate must work to enact a more meaningful campaign process and prove the system’s efficacy to the student body, and boost turnout in future years.
Georgetown students’ voter apathy demonstrates that the system appears either impotent or ambiguous to many. It is unrealistic to expect a student to participate in an election that he believes will accomplish next to nothing. Likewise, a person cannot meaningfully partake in a process about which he is uninformed. The fact that write-in votes had a large impact on the outcome of the election when there were not enough candidates to fill seats is also troubling.
To remedy this desire for information, GUSA should ensure a campaign process that aims to inform students about candidates’ platforms and respective abilities to effect change. Doing so would include encouraging campaigns that focus on the tangible goals like continuing Adopt-A-Hall or expanding Campus Housing Roommate Matching System for transfers and study abroad. Both of these goals aim to improve residential living and have tangible results that could spur a larger voter turnout.
Freshman and sophomore elections consistently enjoy higher rates of voter turnout than those among upperclassmen due to younger candidates’ — who sometimes may be looking for early leadership roles — commitment to practices like door-knocking. This grassroots campaigning results in a student electorate that is more informed and therefore more willing to cast a ballot.
Senior candidates are generally less likely to engage in these practices because the upperclassman electorate is less geographically concentrated. Therefore, the election commission should establish substantive campaign practices like town halls to ensure that the campaign process extends beyond the few flyers in Red Square.
An institution of informative campaigns would reveal the difference between issues candidates claim to want to focus on (improving residential living) and what the senate actually focuses on (big picture issues).
GUSA senators are supposed to represent the popular will of the student body in negotiations with the administration. However, a falling voter turnout means that GUSA senators approach the administration without the weight of Georgetown behind them. Indeed, GUSA elections become an exercise in resume building rather than a demonstration of democracy. GUSA cannot remain a legitimate representative body without the support of interested and informed Hoyas.
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