Editorial Board: SG must improve transparency to boost voter turnout

UTD Student Media hosted a forum for presidential, vice presidential and senatorial candidates on March 21 to allow student to hear what the various people running for office wanted to do should they be elected. Photo by Anthony McNair | Mercury Staff.

As 2017 Student Government elections ended with another low turnout, it is important to consider what can be done to increase student participation in choosing representatives.

Only 6.5 percent of the student population made their voice heard. In an effort to improve student involvement in SG elections, The Mercury increased its coverage of the process and attempted to make it more transparent.

By filming and publishing the interview that helped our editorial board evaluate the presidential and vice presidential candidates, we hoped the student body could get to know their representatives and make an informed decision independently of our opinion.

We also organized and filmed a public forum in collaboration with SG and other student media organizations to draw attention to senatorial applicants and how they plan to work with the uncontested presidential and vice presidential candidates. Although attendance at the forum fluctuated as the event progressed, the candidates’ platforms and vision for SG reached a wider audience when a recording of the forum was circulated on the web.

Although these projects garnered attention and interaction among the student body, there’s still more that can be done to increase voter turnout.

Part of the issue lies in the uncontested elections. The Mercury received a comment from a student asking why they should vote if only one person was running for the presidential and vice presidential offices. There’s less of an incentive to participate if it seems like the outcome won’t be affected by their opinion.

By emboldening multiple candidates to run for executive positions, SG can drum up interest among the student body to invest time in getting to know the different platforms and who will represent them best.

It’s understandable that succession planning comes with uncertainties, and those who may have been enthusiastic about running for office at the beginning of the semester may not feel that way when it comes time to file for candidacy.

For this reason, establishing interest early and supporting those candidates as they move toward filing and running for office is crucial to prevent uncontested elections. Involving those potential leaders in executive decisions and allowing them a chance to see what it’s like to hold the president and vice president roles would ease some of the hesitation in wanting to pursue those posts.

Newly elected SG president JW Van Der Schans and current SG president Akshitha Padigela both said in separate interviews with The Mercury that there are responsibilities and nuances involved with the presidential and vice presidential roles that are often lost on candidates who run for those positions.

Being more transparent about the duties and decision-making processes can be one step the newly elected candidates can take to allow interested members to feel more prepared to take on the top leadership positions in SG.

Vice president-elect Alex Holcomb also proposed another change that can positively affect how many candidates run for office next year. He suggested basic training efforts to empower every senator to be able to draft proposals and take on initiatives without relying on others with those skillsets.

Pursuing projects independently with real-time feedback from the president and vice president will allow senators to affect change and be more confident in their abilities to take that to the administrative level of SG.

Increased transparency at the presidential and vice presidential levels and improved communication and training among senators will help foster an environment that will encourage more candidates to run for office. Their different platforms and goals will resonate with various student groups on campus and inspire them to vote.

– Nidhi Gotgi, Cara Santucci, Miriam Percival, Bharat Arimilli, Bhargav Arimilli, Summer LeBel, Chad Austin and Saher Aqeel

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