FAU community urges students to vote in SG election

SG elections will take place on Feb. 22 through Owl Central.

Students Demand Action President Alisa Gonzalez (pictured center-right) tabling alongside club members.

Courtesy of Students Demand Action

Students Demand Action President Alisa Gonzalez (pictured center-right) tabling alongside club members.

Richard Pereira, Business Manager

As Student Government elections go underway on Owl Central beginning Feb. 22 and ending on Feb. 23, a question on the mind of the campus community is: how many will come out to vote?

Voter turnout in SG elections has been low in recent years. Even though 2019 and 2020 had the highest turnout in the last five years of about 11% of the student body, just 4.1% voted in 2021, according to publicly available records from the Board of Elections.

FAU Elections Board supervisor Kory Edgeworth wrote in an email to the UP that one factor in the decrease of voter turnout in 2021 was the “impact of COVID-19 and the lack of people coming to campus due to large amounts of students enrolled in fully online/hybrid classes.”

Political science professor Kevin Wagner described the crucial role voter turnout plays in determining the results of SG elections.

“It’s pretty important for Student Government just because the number of people who turn out is relatively low so the people [who] do turn out have a disproportionately large say in who wins and who loses,” Wagner said.

Butch Oxendine, the Executive Director of the American Student Government Association, said getting people to vote can be difficult.

Butch Oxendine representing the American Student Government Association as the Executive Director (Courtesy of the American Student Government Association)

“Student Government is not seen generally as a powerful force. That’s something they’ve got to work on. They got to work on proving to students that they’re worth the time to even vote electronically,” Oxendine said.

Oxendine said the training his organization provides to student governments around the country helps counter the perception that student government organizations are powerless, irrelevant, or are negative training grounds for future politicians.

“[Students] can vote anytime and anywhere for a period of a couple of days, and why don’t they? Because they don’t think it’s worth their time, that’s the bottom line,” Oxendine said. “When Student Government is on the student body’s radar, when they see them as relevant, then they can be a champion on bigger picture issues.”

Joao Staziaki, president of Solidarity — an FAU club that intends to give a left-wing perspective on issues occurring on campus, in local areas, and at the national level — said that the low turnout may be due to a lack of connection between the student body and SG.

“I also don’t know how to vote for Student Government so I think that most students don’t care because they don’t know, they don’t vote, or they don’t know how to vote,” Staziaki said. “I don’t think the school does a very good job of explaining why they should, I don’t think the school does a very good job of explaining how to, [and] I don’t think that it should be up to the students to find out [for] themselves.”

Alisa Gonzalez, president of the university’s chapter of Students Demand Action, said that turnout is low because students may not be aware of when elections occur, or they don’t see it as a priority.

“They kind of get overlooked because [students] don’t think that there’s actually going to be an impact based [on] who’s going to be in office, either locally or on campus. So I think some people just don’t think that their vote will matter,” Gonzalez said.

The primary reason for low voter turnout, Wagner said, is students’ perception of the positions they’re voting for.

Headshot of political science professor Kevin Wagner (Courtesy of FAU)

“For many students, especially new students, they don’t necessarily see the world of Student Government as really important [as] their studies,” Wagner said. “So by the time they’re gonna start to see that, oftentimes they move on to jobs or their next career path.”

Gonzalez views the significance of low turnout in the sense that whoever students elect for any position in SG is supposed to represent them.

“If the people who go to the university are not voting, then it’s not an accurate representation of what the student body needs and wants,” Gonzalez said. “If there was more voter turnout, then it would be an accurate representation of what the campus looks like, wants, needs, and things like that.”

If a student body president sees low turnout from the election, Oxendine said it would cause administrators to see them as “ineffective.”

“It tells me right away that they’re not a champion of the general student body, they don’t have the pulse of the student body so that makes me, as an administrator, not respect their opinions,” Oxendine said.

Gonzalez said that voter turnout is important because students should be empowering their peers.

“I think empowerment is the biggest thing, as well as having that accurate representation for all students because we go to the most diverse [public] campus in Florida, and one of the most [diverse colleges] in the country,” Gonzalez said. “Whoever is sitting in those seats should be an accurate representation of that and care about and value those things.”

Staziaki sees maximum voter turnout as the best choice for SG elections because only students who care about certain issues vote, not the vast majority of people who are also affected by those decisions.

“That’s the same thing in a school setting. The [maximum] amount of people get their voices heard [and] the maximum [number] of people will play a part, even a small one, in the decision-making process for the school,” Staziaki said.

Because SG ultimately answers to university officials, Oxendine said students at best have just a voice at the table. With that influence, he believes student government representatives should focus on the issues that affect students every day on campus.

“If they address those core needs, then they’re more relevant,” Oxendine said. “I want them to address things right there in Boca, right on your campus. I want them to address it right there because that’s who they represent. They don’t represent the state of Florida and they don’t represent the United States; they represent your campus.”

To encourage more students to vote, Oxendine said that SG must prove that their platforms are useful.

“What Student Government’s got to do is have an intentionally planned marketing outreach to promote itself as a viable resource and a viable tool and that would help them recruit candidates [who] would help them over time, have more people vote, and ultimately have more influence,” Oxendine said.

Staziaki wants candidates to explain what makes them different from the rest.

“Aside from the people who I know personally or who I’ve heard [are] running, I don’t know about anybody else. And what it turns out to be is usually just like a popularity contest. It’s just who has the most friends who can vote,” Staziaki said. “Instead, you should be talking to the general student body and you should be getting your ideas heard and be expressing [them] outside the context of you and your inner group.”

Students Demand Action President Alisa Gonzalez (pictured center-right) tabling alongside club members (Courtesy of Students Demand Action)

Gonzalez wants candidates to leave their comfort zone and visit other organizations and events they don’t usually participate in.

“That would give them a lot of ground to work with and also will encourage students to use their voices and tell whoever the candidates are like, ‘this is what we want,’” Gonzalez said. “Not only just asking people what they want, but also following through with the promises of the things that they say they’re going to try and do.”

Gonzalez wants SG to be more collaborative with student organizations. “Also, I’d love to see SG provide more opportunities for students to join them and learn about SG and the different things that go into running,” she said. 

Wagner suggested candidates should encourage students to vote by showing how SG affects their everyday lives.

“When students see that Student Government can play an important role in easing some of the problems [or] addressing some of the concerns they have, they’re going to be much more willing to participate,” Wagner said.

Gonzalez does not know if Students Demand Action will endorse a specific candidate, but they will be encouraging voter turnout within the student body.

“[Turnout is] something that we value in general [with] voting and empowering students to use their voices, whether that’s for the presidential election or just a smaller position in office, on-campus, off-campus, locally, nationally, whatever that looks like,” Gonzalez said. “Voting is important and your voice is important, so I think that this is a great step for people to learn about the voting process and learn how that stuff works.”

Richard Pereira is the Business Manager for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @Rich26Pereira.