Students explain importance — or not — of voting in ASUCD elections
With the winter 2018 ASUCD election cycle now over, the UC Davis student body has elected its new ASUCD president, vice president and senators for the next year. However, it is slightly misleading to say that members of ASUCD were elected by the entire student body when voter turnout was less than 10 percent.
Interviews with students in the CoHo revealed a great deal about the attitudes toward ASUCD and how a disconnect in communicating the importance of ASUCD’s work to the student body can create indifference toward the organization.
“I got emails and have no excuse for not knowing about it, but with everything going on with school I don’t really put much thought into it,” said Alex Majewski, a third-year chemistry major. “Since I don’t really have an immediate answer for what student government does for me, I feel like if they made students more aware of how it might affect them it might give them more incentive to go out and vote or at least take more interest in it.”
An interview with Teak Hahn, a first-year environmental science and management major, demonstrated the impact of spreading information about candidates by word of mouth, showing how engagement with certain interest groups can get more people to vote, even if they weren’t particularly engaged with the process in the first place.
“I’m on the women’s water polo club team and my captain Sophia told us all to vote for particular candidates because they said they would help us with the current issue with the Rec Pool,” Hahn said. “Currently they’re trying to renovate it so they make a pool that’s a lot smaller than the pool we currently practice in so we’re trying to fight against that. My captain spoke to some of the people running and the people she told us to vote for said that they would do something about that.”
Even though Hahn did vote, she said that she would not have if she had not been informed about the pool issue by her water polo captain.
“I do believe it’s important to vote but I’m a little bit skeptical about the power that these people have,” Hahn said. “I honestly don’t know enough to say whether or not they have the power to make real change.”
Hahn shared why she thinks there is some disconnect in motivating people to vote.
“I think something that’s really important is that the issue is relatable for people,” Hahn said. “I noticed when I was reading the bios that all of the issues that they wanted to address were things that were relevant to them, but if it doesn’t resonate with the people voting, then it’s going to be more difficult to get them to vote for that cause if they don’t really believe in it.”
However, her case proved that when issues are important to smaller groups, it can be a key motivating factor.
“I think people are lazy and if they don’t have enough faith in the system that it will create real change, they have to see the change, then it’s not going to matter to them and they aren’t going to vote,” Hahn said.
Parker Nevin, a fifth-year cognitive science major, revealed that he did not vote in the election and is bothered by how candidates seem to do such a large amount of promotion without actually informing people of their positions and qualifications.
“I don’t know much about ASUCD or their function or what their powers are,” Nevin said. “I see all of the advertisements everywhere but they’re not very substantive. It just doesn’t seem like they have much content. It’s just like, ‘BASED’ or some hashtag and I just don’t care.”
Nevin thinks that it would not be difficult for the candidates to be more effective in spreading more relevant information.
“I think what they would have to do to get me more interested is show me what they’re capable of, what they’ve done in the past and what they plan to do in the future other than trying to spread hashtags around,” Nevin said.
While Nevin was outspoken regarding what he refers to as a lack of readily available information on the candidates, he admitted that he had never actively sought out information. When asked if he had ever sought out information regarding ASUCD candidate credibility, Nevin’s response was telling.
“No — I suppose that’s on me, but I think it would be easier if there was some sort of information about them that was as readily available as the, I don’t want to say propaganda, posters with names and hashtags and phrases, then I would probably know enough,” Nevin said. “However, if I was really interested in voting in the first place, then I could seek out more information.”
Nevin later spoke on the topic of what he thinks makes certain people more likely to be involved with the process and to care about voting.
“My guess, from a sociological perspective, is that they probably know someone who is involved with ASUCD, or they are in a group that is directly affected by ASUCD,” Nevin said. “It’s possible that there are personality types that are more predisposed to go and search that out. I consider myself a very politically involved individual, but when it comes to ASUCD, I guess my assumption, to be completely honest, is that they don’t really have much real power, that it’s sort of a way to get talented kids into the grad school of their choice. I hate to be that cynical.”
The degree of cynicism and skepticism present in the CoHo interviews is given a thick layer of irony by the fact that ASUCD is responsible for running the CoHo.
“ASUCD runs the student coffee house, a common hangout for students,” said Shellan Saling, a fourth-year international relations major and the campaign manager for the Unite! slate. “Without ASUCD, the Coffee House may not exist. Students should care.”
Saling continued by describing more of the important positions that candidates take and why their advocacy is important.
“ASUCD has also been at the forefront of fighting for more affordable student housing in Davis recently by showing up to Davis City Council meetings to represent the entire UC Davis student body,” Saling said. “Students need to understand ASUCD has a direct impact on us.”
Despite low turnout, Saling believes that the executive victory and three out of six senate seat victories prove that Unite!’s campaigning and promotion was successful in reaching students.
“Unite! won bottom line, therefore we are effective,” Saling said. “Our slate as a whole looks for issues that may not be as publicize[d], for example, the platforms increasing free entertainment ran on by Brandon Clemons, clubs and disability activism ran on by the executive ticket. These were issues affecting many of our students but had not been given representation yet. We also made a[n] effort to reach out to lesser known groups or groups not often represented in elections.”
ASUCD Elections Chair and fourth-year sociology and social services major Naeema Kaleem spoke on why she thinks it is so important to be involved and to make an informed vote.
“The folks that are elected decide what to do with a $13 million budget, some of which is comprised of student fees,” Kaleem said. “Our campus climate today scrutinizes how administration uses student fees, so why not hold other entities that utilize student fees accountable? Accountability is a buzzword thrown around in the Association, but it actually carries a lot of weight, as folks who are elected make decisions that directly impact communities across campus.”
Kaleem also explained how elected officials in the senate and executive office work with ASUCD units to try to improve the services that students engage with on a daily basis.
“The executive office and senators work with almost 30 ASUCD units that the average student uses almost everyday,” Kaleem said. “The elections committee worked extensively with our amazing creative media team to engage the student body with ASUCD units through events and social media efforts.”
Kaleem thinks that generating more interest in the elections process requires increased efforts from all parties involved.
“From an elections committee perspective, the responsibility of creating more interest in ASUCD elections [and] ASUCD as a whole lies with three groups: current sitting senators, candidates running in the election and the student body,” Kaleem said. “That was the point of this quarter’s tagline of ‘It Takes 2 Minutes’ — that if senators truly did their job and educated students on who to vote for, how to vote and how the Association impacts students’ daily lives, voting really would take two minutes.”
While Kaleem is optimistic about the efforts that can be taken to increase the level of student engagement with ASUCD, her insider experience has left her with some of the same cynicism that is reflected in the student body.
“Having been in ASUCD for two years and running two elections so far, I can say that the senate table does an abysmal job of educating voters and promoting elections and then complains that unqualified/undeserving folks are elected to office,” Kaleem said. “Candidates, however, have the responsibility of finding communities on campus to represent in their capacity as an elected official, and finding issues that affect those communities. This is when the student body comes in — if they are unhappy with election results, instead of complaining, they must hold their elected representatives accountable by going to senate, committee and commission meetings and making their concerns heard.”
Kaleem believes that the key to making ASUCD’s work a greater concern in the minds of students is for the elected representatives to do as much as possible to ensure that the student body knows how to and feels welcome to be proactive in catalyzing change.
“Contrary to popular belief, ASUCD can be accessible — but only if those elected to represent students ensure that the space is inclusive and welcoming,” Kaleem said.
Written by: Benjamin Porter — firstname.lastname@example.org