More students would vote in student elections if they felt their concerns were being addressed
Voter turnout is improving, but not enough
March 27, 2019
Suffolk’s Student Government Association (SGA) held its annual elections right before spring break, with a slate of qualified candidates vying for the top student leadership positions at the University.
Turnout, per usual, was unremarkable. 1,047 undergraduates voted in the 2019 SGA election, slightly down from the spring 2018 turnout of 1,159, according to SGA President Morgan Robb.
Of course, things could be much worse. Turnout bottomed out in 2015, when just 250 of the school’s 5,206 undergraduates voted — a whopping 5 percent. Turnout peaked in last year’s controversial election, with 1,159 of 4,880 undergraduates voted, or 24 percent. The enrollment numbers for the 2018-2019 school year have not been released yet. Voter turnout numbers were provided by Robb and undergraduate enrollment numbers are from the Suffolk University Factbook, which can be accessed on Suffolk’s website with a university login.
Although we’ve improved substantially over the years, it is nothing short of disappointing that only a small percentage of the student body decided who would lead us on many occasions. Something has to change.
The first issue that SGA faces is its reputation as a reliable, important campus institution. To put it bluntly, very few students believe that they actually do anything. Of course, there’s no data on this — the University dare not ask how many of us believe its signature student organization is meaningless — but if you ask around, you’ll often hear the same sentiment echoed by our student body.
“I wouldn’t call it a scam,” said one junior PPE major, who spoke to The Suffolk Journal on the condition of remaining anonymous. “But it has zero political clout.”
The things that usually elicit student ire — substandard food, broken laundry machines, dorm maintenance issues and more — are the things that will drive them to the polls. As absurd as it may seem, these issues are the taxes, immigration, healthcare and abortion rights of college politics. They’re things that affect people immediately and directly.
The failure of the student body to take their own government seriously, to respect it as anything more than an elite club for wannabe leaders, leads to apathy.
“I do think that they need to focus more on whose voices they’re actually amplifying and who’s they’re tuning out, especially when it comes to the underrepresented groups on campus,” one student said to The Journal.
The key to mobilizing potential student voters is the same as it is in real-world politics: talk about what they care about. Give them a cause to take up and they will.
Voters traditionally vote with emotion. The best way to get them to vote is to get them to care. To get them to care, you have to talk about what they care about.
“We try as hard as we can to make sure student’s voices are heard,” Clara Jorritsma, a Class of 2020 Senator told The Journal. “The issue is that not many people know who their Senators are. They know the prominent senators mostly from regular appearances at events, or social media. Most people don’t go out of their way to figure out who their class [representative] is.”
Of course, those of us who pay attention recognize that SGA has made significant strides. They’ve done plenty this year under Robb’s leadership. They facilitated a push to have teaching assistants address privilege and bias in CAS and SBS 100. They helped launch Suffolk Cares, a food pantry for students in need. They held the Suffolk University Police Department (SUPD) Community forum to foster greater communication between the University, its police force and the student body.
Their most lasting achievement is their input into the University’s Strategic Plan. The plan was “developed with input from a steering committee made up of administrators representing all parts of the University and faculty members from all three schools,” according to the copy available online.
But students, for the most part, don’t read strategic plans. College students are traditionally more liberal, so while bias training is helpful and may reach new students, most students are already socially conscious.
SGA has a clear impact. Battling voter apathy is going to be a function of making that impact known, and making it broader. If students see the reality that their student leaders are accomplishing so much, they’d be more apt to realize that their voice matters too.