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Following an uncontested race, this year’s voter turnout for the Undergraduate Assembly presidency came in at just 29 percent — the lowest total since the position became popularly elected in 2010, the Nominations and Elections Committee announced.

In recent years, turnout in the UA presidential race — which the NEC has used to determine overall voter turnout — has hovered between the 40 to 50 percent mark. Last year, 41 percent of all eligible voters cast a ballot for the position.

While this year’s presidential turnout was not necessarily surprising, given that College and Wharton junior Abe Sutton ran unopposed, overall turnout numbers tell a different story.

The NEC reported that 50 percent of all eligible voters — or 3,513 of 7,023 students — cast a ballot for at least one UA or Class Board position at some point during last week’s voting period.

This is the first year in which the NEC has worked with the University’s information technology team to determine how many total ballots were cast, so there is no basis of comparison to previous years’ numbers. However, College junior Frank Colleluori, the NEC’s vice chair for elections, guessed that the 50 percent number has likely been slightly higher in past elections.

“When you don’t have someone to vote against, fewer people are compelled to cast a ballot of approval … so the presidential results were basically what I was expecting,” Colleluori said.

He added, though, that he was “cautiously pleased” by the overall turnout.

“It’s nice to know that 50 percent of students came out to vote, but it would obviously be nicer if 100 percent of students came out,” he said.

In the future, the NEC will make it a point to report turnout as the total percentage of students who cast a ballot for at least one position, rather than just those who voted for UA president.

Although some student government leaders have expressed disappointment over the years that participation in elections has not been higher, Penn’s turnout numbers compare favorably to its peer schools.
Of all eight Ivies, Yale and Harvard universities, as well as Dartmouth College, each saw slightly higher turnouts than Penn in their most recent election cycles. The schools reported turnouts of 56, 54 and 53 percent, respectively.

On the other end of the spectrum, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell and Brown universities saw turnouts of 45, 40, 40 and 28 percent in their most recent elections, respectively.

Although turnout tends to fluctuate dramatically at some schools each year, Penn has consistently placed in the upper half of its Ivy peers.

Colleluori said he was somewhat surprised to learn of the University’s relative turnout, given that Penn student government has to combat a number of issues — including the division of voting across four undergraduate schools — that not all institutions face.

Over the past year, he added, the NEC has made a push to increase turnout in a number of ways. In addition to encouraging more student groups to formally endorse candidates, the NEC has tried to get more candidates to personally connect with voters on a one-on-one basis and “really sell themselves.”

Some peer student governments have stressed slightly different strategies to increase turnout.

“A lot of our emphasis has been on getting a more diverse pool of candidates in the first place,” said Shawon Jackson, president of Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Government. “The more representative a candidate pool is, the more people we believe are going to vote.”

Like Penn, others schools have also noted that a more competitive presidential race tends to result in stronger turnout numbers overall.

For example, Columbia College Student Council Vice President of Communications Jared Odessky said that because there is only one party running for the CCSC executive board, there will most likely be a turnout drop this year.

“I think people can definitely be apathetic to student government here,” Odessky added. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s not necessarily that they don’t care — it’s that they may not have time.”

Over the next year, said College sophomore Gabe Delaney, who was elected vice president of the UA last Friday, it will be critical for student government to communicate more effectively to voters if turnout is to increase.

“Moving forward, I’d ideally like to see us around 60 or 65 percent,” he said. “I understand that it can’t be perfect, but I think it can be better.”

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