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Thursday, December 3, 2020

AS election turnout around 16 percent

Just over 2,000 students voted in the recent Associated Students elections, which is about 16.2 percent of Western students.

The voter turnout is higher than previous years, said Henry Pollet from Western Votes, a nonpartisan group on campus that aims to increase civic engagement.

“One of the big things that we’ve been focusing on to increase that number is awareness within residence halls,” Pollet said. “[We’re] trying to start a culture of voting in AS elections starting in students’ freshman [year] and early time at Western.”

Last year’s election saw 15.5 percent of the students vote. The election before that had 8.2 percent turnout, Pollet said.

“I don’t know how it could possibly affect me because I don’t think students are going to get to make huge decisions.”

Matt Eiford-Schroeder, junior

Some of Western Votes’ efforts include advertising in the dining halls and working with the Residence Hall Association and hall councils to spread information, Pollet said.  

Some students, like sophomore Brooke Wilson, chose not to vote because they didn’t think they would be staying at Western.

“In hindsight, I probably should have voted. I voted for the [national] presidential elections,” she said. “It seems kind of silly that I would disregard the campus-wide elections. Even if whatever turnout happens next year doesn’t pertain to me, I still think it’s pretty valuable to give input and express my opinions.”

Other students did not vote because they did not believe that the AS affects them.

“I don’t know how it could possibly affect me because I don’t think students are going to get to make huge decisions,” Junior Matt Eiford-Schroeder said. “It doesn’t feel particularly relevant.”

Eiford-Schroeder only voted for the vice president for governmental affairs position.

However, Wilson believes that each vote in the elections is significant.

“As far as thinking, ‘one vote doesn’t really count in the whole scheme of things,’ I think that’s false,” she said. “I think it does.”

The AS manages a budget of around $2.9 million and provides student services, supports clubs and plans events. This year, they have addressed issues including the resident advisers’ concerns, divestment from fossil fuels and increasing services for undocumented students.

Western Votes is trying to teach students about what the AS does in order to increase interest and voter turnout, Pollet said.

“One of the things that we are working on…is raising awareness about what the AS is,” he said. “Especially with the restructure, now that it passed, next year elections are going to be very different since there are going to be a whole lot of other positions to elect.”

A ballot measure to restructure the AS constitution and add a student senate passed with 95 percent of votes in favor, according to the election results webpage. The senate will consist of students from each of Western’s colleges, including seats for undecided students, according to the constitution on the AS website.

Pollet hopes the student senate will increase voter turnout.

“Trying to build that awareness about what is going on, and all the changes that are happening next year, is going to be really big,” he said. “Hopefully with the new student senate, people will be able to see a more direct link between them and elected positions.”

Not all students voted for all categories, according to the AS election results. The measure to continue the transportation fee, which pays for students’ bus passes, received the most votes. It received 2,016 votes, 1,886 in favor. By comparison, the AS presidential race had 1,987 votes cast, according to the results page.

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