Student government elections seeing lower voter turnout

Slight decline so far may be caused by elimination of 'Get Out the Vote' day

· March 28, 2012, 11:49 pm   ·  Updated March 29, 2012, 6:52 pm

Although students have more channels than in previous years to learn about the candidates running in this week’s student government election, voter turnout has been lower than in the past.

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the undergraduate voter turnout was 28 percent. By comparison, at the same time last year, the turnout was 31 percent, according to College junior and Nominations and Elections Committee Vice Chair for Elections Ariela Cohen.

Voting began at 12 a.m. Monday and ends at 5 p.m. Friday.

Cohen acknowledged that the “mid-week slump” may be a result of the NEC’s decision to discontinue its “Get Out the Vote” day this year — an annual event in which NEC representatives encouraged students to vote on Locust Walk.

“Get Out the Vote could have been a crucial 5-6 percent that was missing,” she said. “It’s one of our oldest traditions, and it’s an event that in theory should work. But we felt it just didn’t warrant the cost.”

In place of Get Out the Vote, the NEC hosted a “Meet the Endorsers” event on March 22, during which time student groups had the opportunity to meet the candidates.

Cohen explained that the NEC is experimenting with “less physically visible publicity” and more mobile and social media presence this year.

“Google Analytics show that most of the traffic to pennstudgov.com is through Facebook,” she said. “Plus, people can now vote from their iPhones and Droids.”

Both Undergraduate Assembly presidential candidates are utilizing social media along with traditional campaign methods this year to reach plugged-in voters.

“A lot of people are using social media, but I don’t think it has made the campaign less substantive,” said College sophomore and UA Civic and Philadelphia Engagement Committee Director Dan Bernick, one of two presidential candidates. On Tuesday, Bernick launched a rap video called “Movin’ Like Bernick,” which had received more than 1,260 views on YouTube as of Wednesday evening.

“It’s an entertaining way to allow people to see that I take my job very seriously but that I also know how to have fun,” Bernick said.

In addition, Bernick said he has been going door to door in college houses and speaking to students at events.

“What’s important is having one-on-ones with voters that really allow them to get to know me,” he said.

College junior and UA Treasurer Jake Shuster, who is also running for UA president, has a similar approach.

“My campaign has been very grassroots,” he said, “Myself and other UA members and supporters have been emailing their friends and various performing arts, community service, Greek and cultural groups with my campaign and a link to vote.”

In addition to highlighting his experience in student government, his personal background and campaign platform on his website ­­­— which he said has received more than 6,000 hits — Shuster has also been inviting students to play “Jaketris,” a customized version of Tetris “with my body superimposed on the pieces,” he said.

“I thought Jaketris would be a fun way to get the word out about elections,” he said.

Despite efforts to increase voter turnout, many still have yet to vote in the election.

“I don’t have enough time to do research on each candidate and what kind of things they stand for” to vote, said College junior Benjamin Yang, who has never voted in a student government election during his time at Penn.

Though Engineering and Wharton freshman Anubhav Maheshwari did vote this year, he acknowledged that he did not know enough about the UA candidates to make an informed decision.

“I’m voting because I should,” he said, adding that he felt more comfortable voting for class board candidates because he knew them personally.

Cohen believes that both the NEC and the candidates have increased efforts to educate voters on substantive campaign platforms this year.

“At the end of the day, if we dropped 5 percent in voter turnout but replaced that with educated voting, then the NEC is happy,” she said. “We believe the NEC has been successful in working toward that goal this cycle.”

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