Many unopposed candidates, low voter turnout in SGO election

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On March 21, the Student Government Organization announced the results of the Executive Board election. Several changes have been made to SGO Executive Board positions and the election process in the past few months. There was low student turnout for the election, which indicates that there are still efforts to be made by SGO to encourage more student engagement.
According to current SGO Co-President Nancy Yuan ’20 one notable thing about the recent election is that there are no longer co-presidents. Instead, candidates for president and vice president ran on the same ticket.
“We realized that because there are so many tasks that are involved with running SGO, it’s better to separate the two so that there are more defined roles for who will be taking notes and who will be setting up the agenda,” Yuan said.
Gilbert Orbea ’19 and Kat Capossela ’21 were elected president and vice president, respectively. They ran on an unopposed ticket.
Yuan also expressed that the Executive Board elections were held earlier in the semester to encourage more students to participate and to allow for a more extensive transition period for the incoming board members.
“We want to make this … open to as many students as possible to engage the student body,” Yuan said. “Since all the other positions [besides president and vice president] are open to any students on campus, we have a transition period to help the incoming chairs. While the president and vice president have prerequisites for at least one year experience in SGO or SBC [Student Budgeting Committee], the other positions depend on the time that people are willing to put in because this is a big undertaking with a lot of responsibilities.”
Akshay Srinivasan ‘21, class senator and newly elected chair of student organizations, also believes that having the election earlier was beneficial by allowing for a transition period, especially considering the quick transitions that happened after the special elections last fall, after a co-president, at-large senator, and the chair of student life resigned.
“I thought [having an earlier election] was necessary,” Srinivasan said. “Especially for exec board positions, it’s really important to transition. I know that last semester with the special elections, the co-presidents didn’t get much of a transition.”
According to Yuan, having the elections earlier in the semester allowed for the newly elected president and vice president to help with the spring budgeting that is related to what they will be in charge of when their term starts as opposed to the outgoing co-presidents.
“In the past, the outgoing co-presidents would do the spring budgeting for SGO for the incoming year which would be quite unfair because they won’t be there to run those activities,” Yuan said. “[My co-president] and I was helping the newly elected president and vice president with spring budgeting. This way, we’re able to transition them in, and they get a start on the activities that they want to run.”
According to Srinivasan, the earlier election was also potentially beneficial in that it had the potential to encourage more students to vote.
“Pushing it earlier might help because students are probably more focused because it’s not right before finals,” Srinivasan said.
However, while SGO voter records show that election turnout has been in the 500s since fall 2015, with a spike in participation in 2017 with 730 voters, only 314 students voted in the most recent election. That results in an overall turnout rate of 21 percent.  
“Voting is a voluntary thing; these votes aren’t compulsory,” Yuan said. “[Turnout] is based on students’ time and in the spring semester, many students are abroad. Getting people engaged in the voting process is something we’re trying to work on in terms of outreach to students.”
According to Srinivasan, the voter turnout being low for this election may have been because five out of nine of the positions were unopposed, including president and vice president. In the past three elections, the co-president race has been competitive.
Of the students who did vote, many selected “no preference” instead of voting for a candidate. Even for positions that were competitive, including chair of student organizations and chair of outreach, upwards of 25 percent of voters voted “no preference.”
“I think it’s important to have the ‘no preference’ option there so that we know if people are or aren’t caring about that election,” Srinivasan said. “I think the big reason voter turnout was so low, especially this year was because the president and vice president ran their race unopposed.”
With the changes made to the Executive Board and an implementation of a longer transition period for the incoming board members, SGO hopes to work towards increasing student engagement.

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