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Newly elected SGA officers discuss low voter participation in 2013

Ashley Tripp

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Though the student population at The University of Alabama reached a record high of 33,602 students last fall, participation in the 2013 SGA elections drastically declined. In 2012 there were 10,115 votes for SGA president, and in 2013 this fell to 5,873 – a 41.94 percent decrease.

With 7,572 students currently enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences, only 1,652 voted this year. Some students wrote in names such as Nick Saban, Mickey Mouse, Batman, His Glorious Eminence, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Abraham Lincoln.

Laura Gregory, a newly elected arts and sciences senator, said as entertaining as some of the write-in suggestions were, she would prefer to see more students taking the voting process more seriously.

“My dad actually made a funny comment after I sent him the election results saying that I might have had to consider a coalition government to include the Pope, Batman and Honest Abe,” Gregory said. “Each of the candidates puts in a lot of effort and hard work during the campaign season, and many of the elections, especially in senate, come down to just a few votes.”

Kelli Knox-Hall, the assistant director of Ferguson Center operations who directs student elections board business, did not comment when asked about her thoughts on the low student participation in this year’s elections.

Mary Wills, the newly elected executive secretary, said because of the number of uncontested races in this year’s elections, she was not surprised that the turnout was low.

“Personally, I was disappointed by the turnout of the election,” Wills said. “Last year’s election garnered a great deal of attention, but the dramatic decrease from one year to the next was disconcerting.”

Wills said voting turnouts, in campus elections as well as any other type of election, depends on the level of voter apathy.

“When people believe that their votes do not matter, the incentive to participate in the process dramatically decreases,” Wills said. “The process could not be much simpler than it is now – students do not have to do anything but log on to myBama.”

Wills said the process is as clear, easy and accessible as it could possibly be. Any individual can run, and any person can use social media or free online sources for advertisements. Also, voting occurs online during a 12-hour window.

“The biggest issue is reinforcing the idea that every single vote matters,” Wills said. “The problem is not accessibility or ease but a desire to participate in the voting process.”

Tate Thomas, the newly elected College of Engineering senator, received 19.89 percent of the votes out of the 543 students who voted. Thomas felt that the SGA election participation this year was low due to poor communication.

“While campaigning on election day, several potential voters mentioned to me that they had no idea voting was even taking place,” Thomas said. “I definitely do not think that the issue is apathy.”

However, Tate had a core group of friends who helped him communicate his candidacy through fliers, social media and word of mouth.

“The reason I had any chance of winning was their contribution to the campaign,” Thomas said. “My biggest tactic, in general, was merely getting my name out there and letting people know the date to vote.”

Jimmy Taylor, the newly elected SGA president, said he did not focus on numbers or potential voter turnout.

“My focus was meeting with as many students and student organizations as possible to let them hear my ideas and potential initiatives for next year,” Taylor said.

Taylor also said that being unopposed did not change his campaign process.

“I did not want the fact that I was unopposed to change anything from what we wanted to accomplish this year,” Taylor said. “For me, it did not matter if I was running unopposed or against five people… My approach would be the same: Continue to meet with as many students and student organizations as possible.”

Taylor has been involved in three different SGA campaigns: senate, vice president for external affairs and now president. Taylor said he feels tremendously blessed to have received the amount of help and support that he did over the years.

“I can tell you that every election is different,” Taylor said. “There will always be different issues and topics that are unique each year that will motivate people to vote.”

Even though the candidates do not have much say in campaign rules and regulations, Taylor feels that the board of students and faculty that make up the Elections Board are fully capable of making any adjustments to the rules if they feel like it is needed.

“In the past three years that I have been involved in a campaign, the director of the elections board, Ms. Kelli Knox-Hall, has been extremely helpful and clear in informing us of campaign rules and regulations,” Taylor said. “I know how hard she has worked in the past to foster the best and most efficient election process possible. I am confident that she will continue that in the future.”

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Newly elected SGA officers discuss low voter participation in 2013