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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Effort from ASUCD, students is needed to increase community engagement

Individuals already involved with ASUCD should actively encourage voting and promote awareness

Since Monday, undergraduate students have had the opportunity to vote in the ASUCD fall election on three measures and for candidates running for Senate, international and transfer student representatives and external affairs vice president. If you are reading this before noon on Nov. 11 and you haven’t already, we encourage you to log in to https://elections.ucdavis.edu and vote. Check out our endorsements here.

As of writing this, the Editorial Board expects to see yet another election with unsurprisingly low turnout. In the 2021 ASUCD spring election, fewer than 2,000 students voted for Senate candidates; to put that into some perspective, there are over 30,000 undergraduate students, all of whom are allowed to vote, making voter turnout for the Senate race under 6%. The 2020 ASUCD fall election had a similar turnout. 

Voter turnout peaked in ASUCD’s 2020 winter election, in which 35.82% of students — over 10,000 undergraduates — voted on the Basic Needs and Services Referendum. During that election, ASUCD employees and volunteers were everywhere, calling out from the MU patio, tabling in the CoHo and writing on whiteboards in lecture halls. The visibility of this effort clearly paid off with the referendum passing, yet even with record turnout, fewer than half of all students cast a ballot.

Low voter turnout in ASUCD is a major problem. An effective student government requires that the students it serves are active, informed participants. If over 90% of students are either unaware of the elections or apathetic toward voting, fewer than 10% of students are choosing the elected officials who represent all students. 

ASUCD employs over 1,000 students, which means that if each student employee voted and told three other students to vote, the number of voters would be more than double that of the two most recent elections. But to even do that, students not as closely tied to ASUCD first need to be aware of what ASUCD is. 

Increasing this awareness is a two-way street: Students need to care more and put in the work to learn more, but ASUCD needs to prompt that with more intentional and directed outreach. Both this year and in the past, multiple candidates running for Senate and other executive positions have told the Editorial Board that a lack of transparency and communication is the biggest issue ASUCD faces. We agree.

These same candidates have cited social media as a possible solution for increasing communication and transparency, but students already uninvolved with the association are unlikely to pay attention to or care about posts from an Instagram account they may not even follow. Investing time and resources into overdue publicity is necessary — tabling at the MU, making announcements in classrooms and hanging more prominent posters would be a good start. The effort that was put into increasing voter turnout for the winter 2020 election, when the Basic Needs and Services Referendum was on the ballot, should be repeated every election. 

ASUCD isn’t just the student government — units, such as the CoHo, Pantry and Unitrans, are core components of what makes ASUCD what it is. These are all services students use on a daily basis, and they should know that the senators they vote for — or don’t vote for — make decisions about the budgets of these units. They should also know the roles of the executive and judicial branches of ASUCD — what does it actually mean to be ASUCD president?

Some of the candidates in this quarter’s elections proposed holding events to publicize what ASUCD is and how students can get involved. The Editorial Board hopes that, if elected, these candidates work to implement this initiative. Additionally, for ASUCD to represent all students, especially those who aren’t interested in being involved, they should also hold and promote events intended to share information with the student body at large.

In an article in The California Aggie from 2009, a reporter wrote that “many students may find ASUCD difficult to penetrate, seeing it more as a clique or private club than a service,” a sentiment some students likely still share. In setting tangible goals for increasing students’ knowledge of ASUCD’s operations and making the association feel less exclusive, ASUCD can not only garner feedback from the students they serve but also welcome different perspectives.

ASUCD is for and by students. That doesn’t mean that all 30,000 students should have the ASUCD bylaws memorized and be ready to quote the constitution, but students should feel agency in making their voices heard through providing feedback and voting. 

Written by: The Editorial Board

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