Low USG voter turnout threatens student voice

With almost two-thirds of the vote of the USC student body, Edwin Saucedo and Austin Dunn were voted into office Tuesday to be Undergraduate Student Government’s next president and vice president. But according to Associate Director of Elections and Recruitment Logan Dallas, only 3,700 students even voiced their opinion by voting — a nearly 40 percent decrease in voters compared to the USG presidential election last year.

Such a steep decrease in voter turnout to choose the leadership of student government seems unlikely following  the unprecedented rise in student activism that has graced our campus over the last year. Indeed, the involvement of students in campus politics has increased in the form of record-high attendance at Senate meetings and extremely competitive Senate elections.  But this momentum has just not manifested in voter turnout. And as USG moves into another year, it should critically analyze this change and put forth greater efforts toward increasing voter turnout in USG elections.

This semester, elections just didn’t get the same attention that it has in years past, and the problem stems from the modifications to the election system. According to Dallas, the duration that candidates were allowed to campaign decreased from three weeks to two weeks this election cycle. Such a truncation of campaign time may have contributed to a lack of awareness of USG elections on campus. This change to the overall process glazes over the issues the University needs to address.

Two weeks ago, the Daily Trojan Editorial Board outlined the issues the future USG president and vice president needed to address, including sexual assault prevention, increased sustainability measures and greater campus cohesion between various organizations. These matters have been spotlighted by students, who have rightfully criticized the current way things are conducted. However, without putting every effort to encourage students to vote, these concerns are not reflected in USG leadership in the next year.

The USG elections commission should strive to extend campaign time duration and greater advertise elections to guarantee that USC student government leadership is really representative of the will of the entire student body. This comes from increasing current voting incentives and encouraging students to make their voices heard at the ballot box. Moreover, the elections commission should put forth greater efforts in the form of advertising, using social media as well as through traditional methods like flyers in lecture halls. Student organizations and advocacy groups should also do their part to encourage their members to vote.

USC is not alone in suffering from low voter turnout. According to the Daily Bruin, just 29.6 percent of UCLA students elected their student government leadership last year. And according to NPR, in 2012, only 45 percent of millennials turned out to vote for the president of the United States. But this number is still more than twice the voter turnout of USG elections — which is less than 20 percent of the student body this year, considering that USG represents roughly 19,000 undergraduate students.

Trojans, we can do better. From every level — the personal to the organizational — USC students have created remarkable momentum in tackling what we need from the administration and one another. It’s time that USG capitalize on this unique moment in the University history and bring students to engage in the most basic form of participation in collegiate democracy — voting in elections.

Daily  Trojan Spring 2016 Editorial Board