This year, voter turnout for non-residence-specific positions on the McMaster Students Union First Year Council sat at approximately 23 percent, with approximately 1,147 students of the 5,000 potential voters participating in the election.
Turnout rates for first-year faculty representative positions were also low, with the majority of first year students not casting their vote. For instance, while voter turnout for niche programs such as arts and science sat at 35 percent, larger programs such as the McMaster Humanities Society only achieved a 4.8 percent turnout.
A lack of student participation in the MSU continues to be a pressing problem.
At last year’s General Assembly, which took place in March 2017 and was specifically designed to amplify McMaster students’ voices, only 16 voters registered. In the wake of the notably low voter turnout, Kathleen Quinn, former Student Representative Assembly (social sciences) member, put forward a motion to hold a general meeting aimed at increasing participation in the MSU from the start of the year.
Although the motion initially passed, it was knocked down at the SRA meeting on Sept. 10, when 12 SRA members voted in favour of the motion, but 18 voted it down.
Ryan Deshpande, MSU vice president (Education), opposed the motion on the grounds that the meeting would be poorly attended if it was held in September. Max Lightstone, caucus leader (engineering), however, noted that engineering holds a semi-annual general meeting that achieves a high attendance.
After the discussion fizzled out, Chukky Ibe, MSU President, concluded that the best plan moving forward would entail hosting an MSU open house and town hall.
Under the status quo, the MSU employs other strategies to increase voter turnouts in first year elections.
In particular, each year, the MSU allots a generous amount of time to prompting the department during Welcome Week. The MSU also raises awareness by working with FYC Coordinator Hazra Chowdhury and being present at Clubsfest.
In addition, the MSU hosts events, spearheads MSU Wants You campaigns aimed at ameliorating MSU engagement amongst outreach groups that are traditionally less inclined to get involved, and partners with MSU Spark, FYC and Residence Life.
One event that the MSU hosted this year, Elections 1A03, consisted of a workshop and question and answer session aimed at informing first year students about elections and MSU involvement.
However, the Elections 1A03 event was not particularly accessible, being held at Mohawk College, not McMaster University. The event garnered only 58 signs-ups on its Facebook page.
Chloe Deraiche, MSU Chief Returning Officer, notes that, in spite of the apparent voter apathy, the MSU has achieved comparatively high voter turnout rates. In particular, McMaster has one of the highest voter turnouts for student elections in Ontario, sitting at around 40 percent.
“This is remarkably strong for a school of our size and leads me to believe the civic engagement at McMaster is exceptionally robust,” said Deraiche. “I think this is something that we are doing extremely well and should be proud of as a school. The Elections Department will strive to continue this excellent work.”
Continuing promotion work and increasing the accessibility of events promise to ignite more interest in student governance.