Getting out the vote

USC students will take to the polls today to elect Undergraduate Student Government members after a newly-extended campaign period that spanned nearly three weeks — but it’s still unclear whether that prolonged phase will result in increased voter turnout.

Student government elections have become notorious at colleges nationwide for drawing only a small percentage of the student body’s vote, and USC has been no exception in the past few years.

By letting candidates start this year’s campaigns about 10 days earlier than usual via social media, USG’s Elections Committee hoped to ease the pressure on each candidate to cram all their campaigning into a short span while putting academic responsibilities on the backburner.

But USG Co-Director of Elections and Recruitment Andrew Cho said the grander objective of the prolonged campaign was to spark student involvement and give the average student more time to learn about each ticket’s respective platform.

“By having that extra week and a half, each candidate can talk to more organizations and student groups,” Cho said. “Those people that don’t have connections [to the candidates], it’s harder to get them involved in the election process. Hopefully with more exposure we can get them out [to vote].”

Last year’s election, which saw Christian Kurth and Ryan Park defeat Matt Arkfeld and Alex Cascante, brought a record 5,631 students to the polls. That was an increase of less than 100 from the 2012 turnout of 5,546 students, and represented 30.7 percent of USC’s undergraduate enrollment.

“That’s a pretty good number compared to past elections,” Cho said. “Obviously, the goal is 100 percent, but realistically speaking that’s not gonna happen.”

Though Cho admits getting every undergraduate vote is unfeasible, he has set his sights much higher for 2014. Cho hopes that two-thirds of USC’s 18,000-plus enrollment will cast their vote — a feat that would require student participation to more than double. He admits that it’s a lofty goal, but is encouraged by there being three tickets for students to choose from.

“The [president and vice president] positions are important roles, so the fact that the interest is there is really comforting,” Cho said. “The more tickets we have, the more demographics we represent … The closer we can get to [two-thirds participation], the more satisfied we’ll be.”

Some students, however, aren’t sure that mark is attainable — or if it’s even necessary.

“I don’t know if you can do much more than they’ve been doing to get people to vote,” said Hannah Gilden, a senior majoring in communication and Spanish. “I think in the past few years, the results have given a good perception of student opinion.”

USG Senior Director of Communications Olivia Diamond said she expects that the graduating class of 2014 will be the hardest group to convince to participate.

“It’s an election for the year they’re graduating,” Diamond said. “You have to consider entire senior class is a little bit checked out.”

There are certainly some apathetic seniors whom USG will have to inspire in order to achieve their goal of getting more students to vote.

“I am not going to vote,” said Adam Silverman, a senior majoring in business. “Aside from the fact I’m a senior and about to graduate, I’ve never in the last three years felt any direct effect from the president and vice president. If they’ve done anything to help or hurt me, they haven’t made it well-known.”

There are others, however, who believe that USG plays a crucial role in continually improving the university.

“I think it’s very important to participate in the elections,” said James Shechet, a senior majoring in business and cinematic arts. “I’m planning on voting in a way that prioritizes [the class of 2014] leaving USC in the best hands possible.”

USG hopes that there are more students who view the election in that light — as an invaluable process that will benefit from having as much input as possible.

And to obtain that input, USG will attempt to attract students to the polls by appealing to their stomachs — every polling day will bring a different food vendor to campus, with free food at each of the voting stations from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Voters will receive Jamba Juice on Monday, In-N-Out on Tuesday, Sprinkles Cupcakes on Wednesday and Amazebowls on Thursday.

There are some signs that student interest in the election could be higher than in previous years — Wednesday night’s debate between the three tickets was heavily attended, with some students relegated to sitting on the floor. Others, however, took the more skeptical view and said the debate was superfluous because of the information that has been readily available on the Internet for weeks.

“[Last year] I stayed for one round and realized they basically reiterate campaign points over and over again,” said Allegra Bishop, a sophomore majoring in environmental science and health. “I mostly [decide] by looking online and seeing how realistic their points are … I think starting [to put campaign platforms online] earlier is definitely a good idea because I feel like in the past it has come up really fast, and that makes it more of a popularity contest.”

Whether students dub elections a “popularity contest” or take them seriously, Cho said USG’s job remains the same — to give students the opportunity to cast their vote. Voting starts today and continues through Thursday.