Despite the fact that there was only one candidate running for one of four positions in the recent University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) by-election, students voted in droves compared to previous years.
However, voters wondered why an election was held for just one person.
“My election commissioners and I pondered this,” said Sara McGregor, chief elections commissioner for the by-election. “We wanted to make things as democratic as possible.”
A total of 426 students voted, and Jane Harrington was elected the new part-time/mature students director. Last year 292 students, or 4.3 per cent, voted in the by-election. This is compared to 223, or 2.4 per cent, in 2008, according to McGregor.
McGregor noted that skipping the election and just appointing the candidate was an option, but the elections commission wanted the opportunity to test out their new electronic system of tracking voter names.
The previous method was to have a large stack of paper with names and student numbers recorded, making it difficult to find a name and keep track of whether someone had voted. With the new method, the commission was able to save paper and have multiple voting stations – outside Riddell cafeteria and in the fourth floor buffeteria.
At the same time by-election ballots were being collected, advance voting for Winnipeg’s civic election was taking place on campus, which may have affected voter turnout.
“It didn’t negatively impact us,” McGregor said, adding that she was unaware they were going to be there. “I hope students chose to (vote at) both.”
The UWSA executive echoes McGregor’s hope that students took advantage of the unique opportunity.
“We think that it’s great how convenient it was for U of W students that both polling stations were located in the same place,” said Ava Jerao, vice-president internal of the UWSA.
Aboriginal student council election
The Aboriginal Student Council (ASC) also held an election recently. Their general election always takes place in the fall rather than spring because a first-year student representative spot is on the ballot.
Voter turnout for the ASC election was 26 per cent, much higher than the UWSA’s percentage, but lower than last year’s.
Open positions and decreasing voter turnout are small issues compared to the budget cuts the council is facing this year.
Clifton Starr, the chief elections commissioner, said the council’s annual budget was greatly reduced, meaning they will have to do independent fundraising for their annual spring pow-wow.
Ava Jerao, UWSA vice-president internal, said that all the UWSA’s departments have had budget cuts this year.
“The (ASC’s) budget in 2009-2010 was about $14,000 and has been lowered to $6,000,” Jerao said via email. “The ASC actually saw a smaller percentage of their budget cut comparative to other student service groups.”
In spite of this, Vanessa Kozak, newly elected ASC female representative, remains optimistic. Encouraged by election numbers, Kozak wants to focus on fundraising to keep their regular activities going.
“The high (voter) turnout is possibly due to the fall date,” said Kozak, “Everybody is here and they’re not distracted by exams.”
The position of events coordinator remains empty; its responsibilities will be divided up among the rest of the council.
Published in Volume 65, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 28, 2010)