As a losing candidate for president in last year’s Student Government elections, it is very exciting to see how much progress has been made in the organization’s election process after just one year. This year, the concept of running mates was introduced for the president/vice president race, and the two tickets running engaged in a very aggressive and widespread campaign. As I ran for office from abroad last year, I cannot comment on how dramatically the visibility of campaign information increased. Both sides put forth a very strong effort, and it is my assumption that the campaign environment was much different this year than last.
The most positive change about this year’s election was the voter turnout. Last year’s election, about which The Minaret ran the headline: ‘Poor Planning, Apathy Drown Elections,’ were just that: poorly planned, and voter turnout was embarrassing. This year, however, a number of steps were taken to improve the process as well as make it easier for the electorate. Voting was open for 48 hours, and students did not have to leave their computer to vote because every student was enrolled in a special Blackboard course created specifically for the election. In addition, Student Government provided ‘polling stations’ in the Vaughn Center Lobby, Plant Hall Lobby and Sykes Lobby during peak traffic hours.
Last year, poor planning for the elections by the Executive Board meant the loss of Blackboard voting that had been introduced in the 2005 election. In addition, the single polling place last year were limited to the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at which students had to wait in (what turned out to be not so long) lines and fill out a ballot. Executive board members defended the abysmal turnout, 352, by stating that turnout in SG elections is traditionally low. The shift to Blackboard, like any election, was not without its glitches. I personally spoke with several students who said they were unable to access the course for voting, and efforts need to be adopted for future elections to prevent this from happening.
This year, thanks to the efforts extended by Student Government in planning ahead for the SG elections and extending polling time to be around the clock, coupled with the widespread visibility of candidates through flyers, banners and Facebook support groups, students turned out in record numbers, 1277, to vote.
Having been involved with Student Government since I first arrived at UT in fall 2003, it also reassuring that Student Government will be led by quality, experienced student leaders for the next year. The victors, Ali Mathe and Tom McKissock, both have been involved with Student Government since first arriving at UT. Ali Mathe has held two executive board positions and understands how Student Government works. McKissock currently serves as sophomore congressman. Both students are involved in numerous other organizations and exude excellent leadership skills needed to make SG successful.
As successful as these elections were, there is still room for improvement for future elections. First, it is the policy of Student Government not to release the official election results to the paper, supposedly to protect a candidate from embarrassment in case of a landslide. Having lost an election last year, I believe that any candidate who enters should be ready to face the results of the election and the opinion of his or her peers. Although losing an election is not a pleasant experience, the UT student body is better off not having a candidate leading an organization if the results are not to his or her satisfaction.
Second, although 1277 students voiced their opinion about the leadership of Student Government, their voice only affected only three positions, as candidates for four positions ran unopposed. It should be the duty of Student Government to recruit candidates for all positions and have true elections. It is true that I ran unopposed for the position of treasurer in 2004, but competition in that race would have been welcome as well.
UT students have turned out in record numbers in order to express their opinions on who should lead Student Government. Let us hope that this year will be the first of many consecutive record breaking elections in terms of voter turnout in Student Government elections.