Low participation is a primary concern

by Sean Madigan

It is difficult to interpret the student mandate when the winning candidate for student body president garners just 1 percent of the eligible vote.
When Nikki Kubista and Erin Ferguson won the presidency and vice presidency of the Minnesota Student Association last spring, they captured just 450 of the 1,520 votes cast in the campus-wide undergraduate election. The low voter turnout drove Kubista and Ferguson to pledge to drum up more student participation.
“Part of student government is to engage the public,” Kubista said. “But sometimes it is difficult if the public doesn’t want to get involved.”
This fall MSA set up a listserv hoping to create a dialogue with their constituents. She spoke at convocation, advocating student government to incoming freshmen.
But despite the effort, the association’s message is falling on the deaf ears of the traditionally apathetic undergraduate body. Many students can’t name what the organization’s initials stand for or what it does, especially freshmen.
And the students who do know about their student government often have an incorrect idea of its stance on issues.
Melissa Sweeney, a junior in the College of Human Ecology, knows who represents her in MSA. She knows MSA developed a listserv and supports the cultural centers.
But Sweeney also believes MSA is working hard to cut back student fees, when in fact MSA is working diligently to keep the current fees system intact.
Kubista said it’s difficult to get the message out to such a large and diverse student population.
“The U is huge,” Kubista said. “Engaging people is a large endeavor. It’s slow, slow work,” she admits.
College of Liberal Arts freshman Cheri Webb knows she could attend one of her hall council meetings for information on student government. The Frontier Hall resident said she is not concerned with student politics and has never been to a meeting because she is usually doing homework when the council convenes.
Representatives should make themselves more visible on campus, said Institute of Technology freshman Julie Zogg.
Charlie Anderson knew what MSA stands for: Missouri Student Association.
“It’s huge down there,” said Anderson, a freshmen at the University of Missouri and native of Minneapolis. At Missouri, voter turnout is high because election ballots are distributed via e-mail. Anyone on campus could name the Missouri association’s president, Anderson said.
Next quarter Kubista plans to hold a series of town hall type meetings to encourage personal interaction between students and their representatives.