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Press Clipping: University of Central Florida SG election voter turnout marred by pandemic

SG election voter turnout marred by pandemic, lowest in years

By Shivani Persaud
Apr 9, 2021

Only 4,217 students voted in this year's Student Government elections from March 15-17, making it the lowest voter turnout in years.

About 10-15% of the student population at public universities vote in student government elections, according to Butch Oxendine, executive director of the American Student Government Association. With about 72,000 students enrolled at UCF, this year's voter turnout - about 5.9% -  wasn't even close to that.

Not only were this year's SG elections the first entirely during the pandemic, but they were also the first in which the senate elections were moved to the same semester as the presidential election. In September 2020, the SG senate passed Internal Bill 52-23, which would move senate elections to the spring semester and have them coincide with the presidential election indefinitely.

SG coordinator Brodie Taylor, who was one of the original proposers for the bill, said that an increased voter turnout was one of the potential benefits to making the change to election timelines.

"The presidential election has a larger turnout than the senate election," Taylor said. "The legislation that was passed made changes to the Student Government statutes indefinitely, but if it feels ineffective, there is always the ability to change it."

According to the official 2020 SG election report, a total of 7,414 students voted in the presidential election. Prior to that, voter turnout has consistently been in the 6,000 to 12,000 range since 2012, except for a low turnout of about 4,000 in 2016.

The culprit of this year's turnout was the pandemic, according to Taylor. Students who weren't on campus because of the pandemic couldn't see the tabling that is traditionally a part of the elections, he said.

"A big element of past elections was the tabling, when students could come out and vote on campus," Taylor said. "Much fewer people have been here. Even at the polling station that the Election Commission runs, historically we would get a lot of students coming up to us. And much fewer have been walking by."

SG senate president Emma Custis said that like with any pilot program, this year's voter turnout for the initiative should be taken with a grain of salt.

"I wouldn't set this year as a precedent, because we should take what we learn from it and try to do better," Custis said. "As we've seen in the past year, anything could happen that can change the course of a plan."

SG election commissioner Victoria Chin said that next year would more likely reflect the change in elections and give a better turnout. Even in regular elections, Chin said that many students don't vote because they don't see how voting will affect them.

"At UCF we also have graduate students and online students who may not see or have the benefits of on-campus undergraduate students," Chin said. "Sometimes First-Time-in-College students aren't as involved on campus because they're just coming in and getting the feel for it without knowing what's going on."

Oxendine said that student government in public educational institutions is not generally considered by the student population as influential or important.

"Having a larger voter turnout is far more than just changing the way students run for office," Oxendine said. "The bigger problem is that student government is not perceived as relevant to students' lives, and they don't see anything in it tangible for their lives."

Marketing the elections has long been a challenge for the SG election commission, Chin said. Not having students on campus to see election promotion is one of the reasons this year's election took a hit, she said.

"We want to promote more and have the word out for upcoming elections," Chin said. "We want everyone to feel involved and included, to bring back the UCF sense of community, pride and spirit."