Elections report says there is “remarkable lack of awareness” about SA and why it exists
The recent Student Association (SA) spring elections had a higher turnout than the past two years, but a new report from the SA’s elections staff is urging for more engagement efforts.
This election, 1,584 students voted, good for a 7.25 per cent turnout based on the voter list from the George Brown College registrar and SA board members who were also eligible to vote. Last year, 1,362 ballots were cast in the election for an overall voter turnout of 6.54 per cent, almost exactly the same as the 6.53 per cent in 2016.
According to the report, which was prepared by Charles Wilson and Clara Pasieka, the chief and deputy returning officers, there is a “remarkable lack of awareness of the role of the (SA)” and why it exists.
For Wilson, a lack of awareness in the SA is linked to lower engagement in the elections.
“Election engagement (should) begin at frosh week, plain and simple,” said Wilson, who has been the SA’s chief returning officer for the past three elections. “A student who is not engaged in the SA, when someone says, ‘can you vote for me,’ may or may not vote.”
To help raise awareness, the report recommends that the in-person polls have information about services the SA provides. The report also focuses on clubs at the SA, suggesting that club members be given information including the role of the board, and how to run for elections at the beginning of the year.
The report makes a total of 11 recommendations, including maintaining in-person and online voting, lowering the threshold of required signatures to run for the board as well as making new board members undertake mandatory training sessions.
The report recommends that if an incoming board member is absent from the training sessions, they will be “deemed to be never elected to the office.”
Pasieka, who has been a deputy returning officer for the past two SA elections, said that she tried to meet students where they were at in terms of interest and experience.
“I had so many great conversations with students who absolutely wouldn’t have voted if we didn’t try to engage them and talk to them about it and see which things they cared about,” said Pasieka.
In 2015, there were 2,853 voters in the SA elections for a turnout of 13.9 per cent, nearly double the most recent election. In those elections there were 14 contested races and eight acclaimed positions. Of the 14 contested races, five had more than two candidates vying for the position, including the director of campus life race which had five.
The most recent elections had just four contested races, and only the St. James campus director position had more than two candidates.
Wilson said that in the right conditions, the voter turnout would be higher. But without candidates competing for board positions, lower turnout can be expected.
“Races get people out to vote. Acclaimed races do not get people out to vote.”
With files from Mick Sweetman