usc voting ballot

Just like a roller-coaster after its peak, voter turnout for USC president and vice-president has plummeted — but unlike a roller-coaster, turnout has not climbed back up another hill. 

Instead, turnout has flat-lined. Last year, 21.6 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots for a slate — and that was a three-year high. In the past two federal elections, youth turnout has been estimated at 38.8 per cent in 2011 and 57.1 per cent in 2015. Students clearly know how to vote, but they haven't managed to go online to vote at Western.

At other similarly-sized universities, students still manage to log onto a website and make a few voting clicks. Last year at Queen's, 44.3 per cent of their students voter in their student government elections, and McMaster boasted a turnout of almost 50 per cent. Get it together, Mustangs!

We pay over $800 to the USC every year. They control the clubs' system, our bus pass, health and dental plan, UCC services, The Wave and The Spoke, and a ton more. We contribute enough that people should be voting, so what's happened with turnout?

The 2012 election represents a high watermark for voter turnout at Western — around 36.8 per cent picked a presidential candidate. Back then, slates did not exist — other executives were elected by council. 

This election five years ago was a barn burner. After a rather exciting campaign, the voting website was hacked, rendering all the votes invalid. With Reading Week a few days away, it took a full week for another election campaign to start up again. By that point, virtually everyone at Western knew about the election — or was tired of it.

A year later saw the introduction of the slate system where a president ran with a vice-president internal and vice-president external. There were only three options for voters to choose from, but this time there were nine candidates to evaluate. For many it must have proved too much.

Voter turnout plummeted nine per cent — only 27.5 per cent voted.

2014 saw a two-slate race that was cripplingly boring. Most assumed that the eventual winner, Matt Helfand, was going to cruise to victory. While the opposing slate had similar experience and a different vision for the USC, they were bogged down by a candidate who lacked charisma.

Voter turnout took another tumble and as Helfand easily captured a lopsided win, only 19.6 per cent of students decided to vote. In two years, voter turnout had almost been cut in half. 

Hopes were high that when the slates were changed to have just two candidates to a team, voter turnout would rise again. Voter turnout inched up, but only marginally. 

In 2008, there was concern about the low voter turnout that year — only about 26.4 per cent of students picked a candidate. Nine years ago, that number made people worry — it's still five per cent higher than last year's turnout. 

Candidates always pitch ideas they hope will engage the student population but something has happened in the past few years. Apathy like this is not the norm for Western. 



Bradley is the digital managing editor for Volume 110 of the Gazette. This is his fourth year on the editorial board, previously working in Opinions, Sports, and Culture. He's a recent graduate with a degree in Canadian-American relations.

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