Leaders take on voter apathy

JP Leider

D.article {border:2px solid #ccc;} 1espite experiencing the lowest voter turnout in the all-campus elections since 2002, student-leaders are holding fast to their belief that student government remains relevant to students at the University.

This year, 2,840 students, or about 10.5 percent of the eligible student body, voted in last week’s all-campus elections in which Max Page and Monica Heth edged out Anthony Dew and Jeff Tate to become next year’s Minnesota Student Association president and vice president.

MSA President Emily Serafy Cox said the organization has been concerned with voter turnout for some time, although it is comparable to other universities.

She said a possible solution that will be proposed at next Forum, scheduled for April 25, is to extend all-campus elections from two days to a full week.

Cox said MSA makes every effort to turn out the vote.

“It’s not as though we keep anybody from voting or fail to advertise, it’s not as though an effort isn’t made on the part of the candidates or the (All Campus Election) Commission – everybody tries to get out the vote,” she said.

At a certain point it’s about whether a student cares enough to be engaged and to vote, Cox said.

Although some students question MSA’s relevancy in the wake of low voter turnout, MSA president-elect Max Page holds that MSA is the place to effect change.

“MSA is in the best position to lobby the administration and regents, and we are in the best position as far as resources and organization to empower student groups and help them achieve the goals they want achieved,” he said.

Should the two-year decline in voter turnout continue, MSA could face potential hardships when advocating on behalf of students as “representative” of the student body, since much of MSA’s power is relatively unofficial and granted by the administration.

The organization is minimally recognized in University policy and can issue no binding resolutions or position statements.

Lynn Holleran, associate to the office of the president, said this year’s low voter turnout will not affect the University’s relationship with MSA.

“It’s unfortunate that the number of students who participated in the election is so low,” she said. “With that being said, MSA is a very diverse group of individuals who do represent varying views throughout campus simply by the leadership that comes together from different organizations.”

The administration has worked closely with MSA and will continue to do so, she said.

Another facet of student government at the University, the Student Senate, also elected many of its leaders for next year through the recent all-campus elections.

Unlike in MSA elections, write-in candidates played a heavy role in Student Senate elections because fewer students filed for candidacy than the number of positions available.

Student Senators have dual membership on Student Senate and MSA Forum.

Five write-in candidates won seats on the Student Senate. Jonathon Lovell won a write-in position for the College of Liberal Arts with 19 votes – the most received for any winning write-in candidate – and another student, whose name was not released by press time, won the seat for the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture with one vote.

No students vied for two available positions for the College of Education and Human Development.

Student Senate Vice Chairman Rick Orr said an effort will be made to interest more students in the Student Senate.

“You can’t change Student Senate because it’s so old, but there needs to be more importance on what it does and try to get information out to the students,” he said.

The mostly internal work that Student Senate has done this year will pave the way for more involvement next year, Orr said.

“Next year has more opportunity to be involved in processes as strategic positioning rolls out, as well as the central corridor and the stadium,” he said. “Student Senate will have a great opportunity to work with administration.”