With more than 1,000 votes, SGA officials boast one of the highest voter election turnouts in recent years after the Senate midterm election ended earlier this month. This means the total vote represented about 4 percent of the 28,317 registered students.
Such low-voter numbers have always been a problem, said Tim Reed, senior adviser to the SGA and director of the University Student Commons and Activities.
“Prior to (2001) they’d been doing paper ballots and putting voting booths kind of around campus,” he said. “We just watched that – not very many people were participating.”
Because the voter turnouts during the 1999 and 2000 of elections were very low, Reed said, the SGA decided to re-evaluate how it conducts elections.
“The voter turnout in 2000 was only like about 400,” he said. “So they really wanted to find a way to reach more students. We looked at a lot of different ways (to vote), but the Web election came out best.”
The election ballot first was used in 2000, Reed said, because the student government did not have enough representatives working the polling booths, and it was too expensive to hire students to run the booths.
“You (voters) wouldn’t have to worry about polls,” he said, explaining that the new system of online voting works well. “You wouldn’t have to worry about poll workers. Anytime for a 48-hour period, just log on, put in your ID (number) and vote.”
Students, however, argue that voter turnout has less to do with the balloting system and more to do with campaigning.
“You hardly know anybody (and) you don’t know who’s running,” said Jacqueline Sydnor, a sophomore criminal justice major.
Fellow commuting student Alex Miller also didn’t vote.
“I didn’t even know about it,” said Miller, a junior English major.
Newly elected Sen. Ginger Myers agreed with these students.
“Basically, if someone did not know a senator or get handed a campaign poster, they didn’t vote,” said Myers, a senior physical therapy major representing the School of Education.
Election committee chair Ali Faruk said getting the word to students is harder than it looks.
“There’s no way to for us to mass publicize who the candidates are,” Faruk said. “We can send out an e-mail to say this is when elections are… but there’s no way that everyone at this school can see and hear and get to meet these people (the candidates).”
Faruk said he thinks students are too busy with school and work to meet their senators and that the SGA can’t reach everyone.
“Fifty people can only meet so many people,” he said. “We had over a thousand people vote, which if you think about it, 50 people getting a thousand people to vote is pretty good.”
Syndor, however, said the SGA wasted opportunities to advertise its elections.
“I’m an RA in the dorm and they (the SGA) really have a lot of opportunities to let people know, and they don’t (use these opportunities),” she said.
In his State of the SGA address at the Monday, Oct. 11, Senate meeting, SGA President Zmarak Khan said one of his goals is to make the SGA more visible to the student body.
“We also made a whole lot of progress making the SGA more visible and more relevant to the student body,” he said. “We have sent more mass e-mails and gotten more coverage from the Commonwealth Times than ever before.”
Khan reported that earlier this semester he visited VCU 101 and other freshman classes to talk to students about the SGA.
The revised constitution, which students approved 450-43, was also on the Senate elections ballot. The difference in voting numbers, Reed said, was because a lot of people chose not to vote on the revised constitution.
The constitution, already approved by the Student Senate, will now go to the University Council, the administration and to VCU’s Board of Visitors.