Despite a record-breaking voter turnout this year in Student Senate elections, the number of students voting overall remains disappointingly low.
Though the freshman class had a staggering 60 percent participation, drop off from class to class was drastic. Though incumbency in Senate explains some of this discrepancy, numbers for the sophomore and junior class remain disappointing.
Recently elected student senate member freshman Morgan Tonner discussed some of this discrepancy.
“Because the freshman class is experiencing their first year on campus, they might value things like [Senate elections] more, because it gives them a voice in their schooling, whereas other grades might be turned off by previous experiences they [have had with senate], she said. “I feel [the freshman class] came here with such a purpose to make this place our own. I think we’re just hugely invested.”
However, a sense of cynicism towards Senate can also contribute to problems with voter turnout. Sophomore Robert Turski, in his second year serving as a senator, pointed to disconnect from the operations of senate and problems with transparency as major causes of resentment in the student body towards the organization.
“The biggest contribution to voter turnout is this resentment towards Senate. People’s interactions with Senate are really limited, and we’ve tried very hard to make it accessible. For example, I’m on Finance Committee, where we work with the clubs. We had to slash heavily a club’s budget, and I know that meant a lot of members of that club had a lot of resentment to us,” Turski said.
Senate is taking action to fix these problems with disconnect from the student body, such as instituting “bring-a-friend-to-Senate” day, where non-Senate members are encouraged to attend a meeting and see how Senate operates.
Despite this, there are still major problems with the interaction between Senate and the Knox student body. For example, rather than releasing exact numbers of votes like last year, percentages were released. This raised questions about exact vote distribution.
“Last year, I was vice president [of Student Senate], and we released numbers and an issue was brought up with sensitivity for people who got a very low number of votes,” senior and Student Senate president Michael Gasparro said. “This, year we thought it would be a smarter idea overall to release percentages instead. … We wanted to protect against any person who might get only one, two, three votes.”
The question still remains, though, how exactly voter turnout issues can and will be addressed by Senate in the coming years.
“Talk it up. I know that for my campaign it was very important for me to get out and meet people and I know that’s very important for other campaigns as well,”Tonner said. “A lot of people actually don’t know what Senate does, which really shocks me. They don’t know the huge amount of work we put in and the huge amount of benefits they reap. So I think that by telling people what we do and what progress we’re making, it would actually make them much more invested.”
However, with highly successful season for Student Senate elections, with record-breakingly high turnout across the board, a sense of satisfaction should be felt by both Senate and students.
“You can never be satisfied with voter turnout. You always want it to be higher than it is. But knowing you can never get to 100 percent. That lets you keep shooting higher. You don’t have that far to fall,” Gasparro said.