Photo by Kyle West
By: Maanvi Dhillon
Voter turnout in the 2019 McMaster Students Union presidential election fell 1.2 per cent from last year, marking the lowest rate since 2012.
Just two years ago, voter turnout sat at 41.6 per cent and saw 9,327 student voters.
“The voter turnout rate continues the impressive upward trend in McMaster student voter turnout, and marks five consecutive years with more than 40 per cent of students voting in the MSU Presidential election,” reads a statement on the MSU website from 2017.
This ‘upward trend’ did not continue the following year. In particular, the 2018 election saw voter turnout fall 13.6 points.
Following last year’s election, the MSU elections department promptly investigated the sharp decline in voter turnout.
After finding no issues with the voting software, Simply Voting, low turnout was estimated to have been caused by students opting out of receiving elections emails.
“Students who voluntarily opted-out of emails from the MSU’s election software provider, as per Canadian anti-spam legislation, did not receive future emails,” said Uwais Patel, the MSU’s chief returning officer.
Patel pointed out that this did not necessarily prevent students from voting in the election as they could have received a ballot if requested. However, it still likely would have reduced their likelihood of voting.
Low voter turnout is a serious concern given the role and position of the MSU president, who Patel describes as “an important representative who will help shape the student experience for years to come.”
As a result of the change, in this year’s election, students were able to
access their online ballot with their Mac ID instead of email.
Students were also enabled to use a general link and log in with their McMaster login information, eliminating the necessity of email for access and making the process fit more naturally with other online McMaster activity, like accessing Mosaic or Avenue to Learn.
For these reasons, Patel believed the transition would make “voting more accessible and the process of voting more reliable.”
Before the election, Patel was confident that the MSU Elections’ lineup of strategies would give students access to the details they need to easily vote.
“Using resources and technology, we are maximizing the way we deliver… information,” said Patel. “By voting and engaging with the election this year, students can be confident in who they elect as MSU President to represent them on issues pertaining to student life and advocacy,” said Patel.
In effort to increase voter turnout, the elections department also released an instructional video showing how to vote.
They also asked committee members and MSU Maroons to promote the election on campus and encourage students to vote.
However, this year’s drop in voter turnout suggests that the new voting system and array of promotional efforts did not sufficiently improve the turnout rate.
This year’s notably low voter turnout casts doubt over the new MSU president’s capacity to ‘represent’ McMaster’s nearly 30,000 undergraduates when only 6,576 voted in the election.