By Ben Macintosh
Photo credits: UPEISU
The UPEISU is making changes to encourage students to be involved in the SU as student engagement in SU elections remains low.
The student interest has been low for the last number of years with the recent October SU election receiving a 14% voter turnout.
President Emma Drake has been involved in a number of SU elections and has viewed the decrease in voter turnout.
“To see a decrease in voter turnout it is challenging to see because you want to see more people see the value in the organization,” she said in an interview with The Cadre on thursday.
Last year’s winter executive election received only 15% voter turnout with each executive position running uncontested. Drake said the executives are important roles in the SU so low voter turnout was disappointing.
“The executives are full-time employees, they put in twelve months of the year,” she said. “And then to see people not really want to participate in determining who the candidates are was disappointing.”
Drake says the low levels of student engagement means the SU must make a bigger effort to address the low voter and candidate turnout.
In the 2019 October SU election three seats on council run uncontested and four seats did not have any candidates which will now be filled by appointment.
The SU decided the best way to improve student engagement was by focusing on candidates.
“Candidates bring their personality, their energy, their voter support group, as well as they bring a story associated with the election,” Drake said.
This includes reaching and encouraging more students in run as candidates, then also providing those candidates with training and support.
Drake says the SU has not always been active in attracting students to run in elections.
“We typically rely on council to move up into the ranks of executive positions. However, not making any particular effort to make that happen,” she said.
With UPEI’s smaller student body population and an effective plan, Drake believes the voter turnout could be much higher.
“I would be very confident in saying, with our strategic plan we could reach 30% voter turnout in the spring general election,” she said.
The UPEISU council recently eliminated the winter executive election, going back to the old format of a spring election for both executive and councillor positions.
The three student elections plus the municipal, provincial and federal elections all occurred in the last 11 months.
Drake said this was causing some voter fatigue.
“What we’re hearing from students is they’re tired of elections they want to stop being told to vote,” she said.
Students may soon get their break from voting. If the winter election is removed the next election will not be until spring 2020.