As some of you might have noticed, UCF has quite a large student population, so when the SGA election voter turnout was reported on Wednesday, March 30, a few students, understandably, were a bit shocked. Others, however, were not at all surprised.
This year’s SGA election had a voter turnout of 3,900 students, 230 of which were write-ins — votes in which students choose to write in their own choice for a candidate rather than support any candidates on that year’s ballot. That number is indeed quite low, especially if compared to the voter turnout from previous SGA elections.
During the SGA presidential election of 2015, the total voter turnout was 7,379, meaning there was a 50.26 percent decrease in voter turnout for this year’s SGA election.
In 2014, the voter turnout was 6,124; in 2013, the voter turnout was 7,688; and in 2012, it was an impressive 12,667. The SGA presidential elections of 2011 and 2010 also saw voter turnouts reaching more than 9,000.
Now, without a comprehensive statistical survey, the reasons for this year’s historically low voter turnout can only be reached via speculation and assumption, however, some students voiced opinions about the potential factors that might have influenced this year’s turnout.
“I don't think it had much to do with the surrounding controversy,” said Manny Orozco Ballestas, a senior political science major who formerly suggested students boycott the election earlier this week on Facebook. “Rather, this election cycle we literally had one viable choice. Why would the students be enthusiastic about going out to vote when one of the candidates was undoubtedly going to win regardless?”
Ethan Conkwright, a sophomore accounting major, believed multiple factors might have influenced the low voter turnout, including general voter apathy in regards to SGA elections, alienated voters who would have preferred to vote for former SGA presidential candidates Jacob Milich and Elaine Sarlo, negative publicity stemming from accusations of SGA corruption, the assumption that perhaps SGA is mainly controlled by Greek members, and similar to Ballestas’ reasoning, the sentiment that their vote wouldn’t matter.
“I think that a lot of students sensed that the election would end in a landslide victory by Chris and Rachel and, thus, were less motivated to vote,” Conkwright surmised.
Indeed, voter turnout is believed to be partially influenced by the competitiveness inherent in an election, according to FairVote, which is a nonprofit organization that advocates for electoral reform in America. Electoral competitiveness is believed to be one of the most important factors in determining voter turnout rates in states, a theory that might be further supported by the democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sander’s recent win in Michigan, which saw a record voter turnout.
Conkwright found it particularly interesting to see the low voter turnout in this year’s SGA election, given the prominent media coverage it received. And although he believes Christopher Clemente and Rachel Altfield are perfectly qualified and will make for fine leadership, he does maintain that it's a shame Jacob Milich, who he voted for in the SGA senate elections, wasn't given the same opportunity.
“It's also interesting that so few students voted because our SGA has been in the news a lot lately,” Conkwright said. “This round of SGA elections actually made national news. You've obviously had Knight News running stories claiming that our SGA was corrupt for several months now, and then Jacob Milich and Elaine Sarlo got kicked off the ballot behind closed doors. I think part of the low turnout was due to alienated Jake and Elaine supporters who didn't vote.”
SGA president Cait Zona found it upsetting to hear of the low turnout, but hopes that increasing the budget of the election commission, whose role is to encourage students to be educated and vote in the elections, will increase turnout in future SGA elections. For the last few years, election commissioners have not been paid at all, but in the budget hearings this year, Zona made a motion that passed favorably to offer them a semesterly stipend.
“I’m extremely disappointed in the low turnout for this year’s presidential elections. The negative discourse that continues to haunt our election process serves only to disconnect and remove students from the political process. I think it’s time for all sides to come together and begin to right this ship, and I think that starts with further increases to the election commission budget.”
While Ballestas disagrees with how this year’s election was conducted, he is, nevertheless proud to be a UCF student and wishes the best for the winners of the 2016 SGA election.
“I’m utterly disappointed in this year's election cycle,” Ballestas lamented. “I think that the tremendously low voter turnout is further proof that our SGA is failing to represent the entire student body. However, I congratulate and wish our president-elect all the best in his upcoming term. […] I am, and forever will be, a proud Knight.”
Gabby Baquero is the Entertainment Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @Gabby_Baquero or email her at MariaB@centralfloridafuture.com