Six degrees of voter apathy

In NewsLeave a Comment

Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Luma Muhtadie

The way to get students to hit the polling stations in future RyeSAC elections is to bring the polling stations to them, said RyeSAC chief returning officer Jason Curran, who coordinated last week’s election.

“Students have classes, work, and social activities to go to,” he said. “If you want them to vote, you really have to make it easy for them.”

This year’s elections saw only six per cent of Ryerson students vote, down from just over nine per cent in 1999 and 2000. It was the first time program specific polling stations were used. Students were instructed to vote at the polling stations set up in their own program’s buildings. Curran said several poll clerks told him they had to redirect more than half of students at the polls because they were trying to vote at stations where they were not eligible.

“I would guess about 20 per cent of those (redirected) didn’t bother voting,” Curran said.

Curran, who took the CRO post the day before election promotions began, said he has always maintained that the program-specific polling stations were the wrong way to go.

“Why not set up polling stations right outside the RAC? You would hit so many students who have a few minutes to spare,” he said. “They already have to take out their wallets for their RAC cards, so their ID cards would be right there.”

He also suggested putting polling stations outside the library, the cafeterias, or at Oakham House from 6 to 9 p.m.

But other factors may also have accounted for this year’s measly turnout, such as he scheduling of elections right after the holidays — when students were just settling in — and scheduling polling at the same time as the Feb. 6 Day of Action.

“Each election has its own character — depending on the issues on the table, and how candidates orient themselves in relation to those issues — that affects voter turnout,” said RyeSAC president Odelia Bay.

“This year, tuition fees and deregulation were a big focus,” Bay said. “But a lot of students expressed their interes in these issues by coming out to the Feb. 6 Day of Action, rather than by voting.”

Elections should not be run during a RyeSAC-sponsored event, Curran said. “You wind up spreading resources and media attention too thinly, and student interest is divided. If students are marching off campus, they won’t be voting.”

Student issues and advocacy coordinator Andrew Nichole said it was difficult to pin down a single factor responsible for poor showing at polls.

Noble, Bay, and RyeSAC operations manager and former CRO Robe Emerson are planning a post-mortem to discuss better strategies for promoting the elections and running them more efficiently in the future.

“We recently conducted a survey about how we, as an association, can communicate most effectively with students,” Bay said. “Flyers, posters, and classroom speeches were among the options. Classroom speeches consistently came up as being effective.”

Alex Lisman, RyeSAC v.p. education, believes a longer lead-up period to elections and including activities such as public debating in the cafeterias, is a good way to promote better awareness of the elections.

Jason Curran believes just the opposite. “The two-week campaigning period is far too long, it should only last for a week and a day. If voting starts on a Monday, there’s no carry-over effect from the previous Friday’s campaigning.”

“Students need to be hard and fast when it comes to campaigning,” Curran said. “If there’s too much of it, people won’t care anymore. Students become desensitized to posters spread all over the walls after a period of time.”

Leave a Comment