News Analysis: Combined failures led to low turnout

Written by | May 13, 2009

By the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around, Portland State had a new student body president and vice president, Student Fee Committee chair, six SFC members and 22 student senators.

But when the election excitement died down and the winners shook hands with everyone in sight, the biggest news of the day was revealed: Only 800 Portland State students voted in the 2009 ASPSU Election. 

With over 26,300 students enrolled, 800 voters represent a small sliver—just over 3 percent to be exact—of the Portland State student body. And that figure speaks louder than the claims of apathy and disinterest that normally dominate conversations surrounding the state of campus.

Like student government elections at Portland State over the past couple decades, this year’s election failed to unfold without a hitch. The difference is this year it seemed a number of forces were working against the student body all at once.

There was the ASPSU Elections Board that was unable to properly commit to the dates and times scheduled for candidate debates, causing a chaos that left candidates showing up late and students too confused to even consider attending.

That same E-Board failed to post signage around campus announcing the start of the election and how to vote well in advance of polls opening.

The biggest mishap of the entire election came when the first day of voting had to be cancelled following the discovery of an incomplete ballot that contained only a fraction of the candidate statements and photos, and was missing links to important documents regarding constitutional amendments and the green-fund referendum.

While the cancelation of the first day of voting wiped away at least 93 votes and undoubtedly cultivated a greater sense of distrust in student government, it also afforded the candidates with an additional three days of campaigning when the voting schedule was amended. 

Those three additional days were not taken advantage of completely, as candidates seem to continue the trend of not spending enough time campaigning to adequately get out the vote and ensure a substantial sector of the student body would cast a ballot.

Much of the finger pointing for the historically low turnout will be aimed at the Elections Board. However, the candidates should deserve some of the blame as well.

Current ASPSU Vice President Kyle Cady has explained on several occasions throughout this election season that the candidates lacked an understanding of how to motivate students to vote, specially citing a void of grassroots efforts.

Candidates seemed to carry themselves with an air of overconfidence. Campaign tables were scarce. Signage was almost nonexistent. Handshakes were too few and far between. And creativity was apparently out of the calculation.

It seemed convincing students to vote was less of a priority than attacking the current ASPSU administration, filing complaints against opponents and vacillating between slates.

But within the failure of getting only 800 students to vote is a sad truth for the newly elected student government members and the Portland State student body.

When new student body President Jonathan Sanford takes office on June 1, and when SFC Chair-elect Johnnie Ozimkowski presides over the Student Fee Committee next year, neither will have the confidence of more than a mere 2 percent of the student body.

Neither Sanford nor Ozimkowski will have that all-important veritable mandate on the students at Portland State, which means they will have even less political capital with those outside campus. And a lot of choices, mishaps and miscalculations have led to this, however, this experience proves that some mistakes cannot be repeated.
The ASPSU president must more seriously consider who is appointed to the Elections Board.

E-Board members must take their jobs more seriously to cultivate energy and hype around the election.
Candidates must more seriously understand their role in engaging students to be active participants in the process of bettering the Portland State experience for all.

And, most importantly, the final turnout must be more than a measly 800.

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