A Crisis in Student Voting

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Early this morning, University of Texas students once again began visiting utsg.org to vote in Student Government elections.  There is a runoff for President and Vice President for the first time since 2002.  The runoff pits Scott Parks and Muneezeh Kabir, two members of the current SG Administration, against Minator Azemi and Justin Stein, two university-wide representatives.

A recent editorial in the Daily Texan discussed student excitement in 2008, and it then attempted to encourage students to go vote.  Particularly, the piece encouraged votes for Parks and Kabir, but my largest criticism of the editorial is the implication that people are not involved enough in student government elections.  In the first vote, 9,274 students voted in the race for student body president and vice president.

With a population of about 50,000 students, that's over 18% turnout.  In elections for Student Government, I tend to think that's pretty good.  Especially when, simultaneously, elections pertaining to County and State Governments were happening.  That 18%+ is close to 3 times the Travis County Democratic Primary turnout (6.65%) and over 2 times the Travis County Republican Primary turnout (8.68%).

And when you look at the raw numbers, to look at just students, it's probably worse.  I reviewed the numbers in precincts 137, 146, 148, 152, 247, 266, 267, 275, 277, 420, 429, and 431.  Each of these precincts has more students than not, and a few of them are heavily dominated by UT undergrads.  A vast majority of student voters are probably registered in these precincts.  The total number of voters here: 3,020.  Democratic and Republican Primaries combined.

That is over 3 times less than the amount of students who voted in the SG elections, and the story worsens after more parsing.  Not one of these precincts is lived in entirely by students, and the ones with the most raw turnout (266, 247, 420, 427, and 275) also have the heaviest amount of non-student activists and voters of any of these precincts.

Truth is, the number of UT student voters is probably a lot closer to 2 thousand than 3.  And possibly a lot less than that, too.

I don't suggest that we should expect more students to vote in the Texas Primary than in their student government elections.  Students have friends deeply invested in Student Government, and so they'll always vote there in higher numbers.  But the turnout was borderline embarrassing when students had two weeks to walk into a popular building on campus (the FAC) to cast their votes.  It was embarrassing, and all these apparently-political folks on campus didn't seem to notice.  

They were all too busy running elections for  government that has much less effect on our lives.  In the 2008 General Election, the University Democrats were proud to partner with Student Government, among many others, to help get out the student vote.  Student Government should change their election days, so they can partner on such efforts with the Primary, too.  The Primary may not matter nearly as much, but it's pretty darn important, too.

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2 Comments

  1. Internet Voting
    Can't the higher turnout rate in the SG elections be attributed to the ease of voting, on the internet?

    No mail ballot application, no lines, no baloney. We can't let people vote for Governor via a web page, but I think this has a lot more to do with it than political motivation, or lackthereof. Do you think that if there was a primary election for SG that it would have had higher turnout than this primary? Probably not.

    I think that judgments about student involvement in elections, at least for this cycle, should be reserved until October 25th or so. Then, you can GOTV the hell out of the 40 Acres.

  2. Agreed completely
    SG setting their elections for the same time as primary elections is irresponsible.  That needs to be changed.

    The turnout for the SG election is pretty high.  Unfortunately the number of people who really know anything about them is very low, most vote based on who their friends are.

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