Just over eight percent of UCI undergraduates voted in ASUCI’s spring elections this year — the lowest spring voter turnout in at least the past 20 years, since ASUCI implemented online voting in 1999.
Only 2,239 students, or 8.05 percent of UCI’s undergraduate population, voted last week. This is just over a third of last year’s turnout of 23 percent. The prior year, in 2016, 30 percent of undergraduates voted.
For the historically low numbers, many students blamed a lack of publicity during this year’s campaign period, the first three weeks of spring quarter. While in past years, candidates have filled Ring Road with booths and flyers and used social media to spread campaign messages, many students claim that this year’s absence of publicity caused them to miss elections week. The few elections-related announcements made by ASUCI officials went largely unnoticed.
“I ignored the email [from ASUCI’s Elections Commission], not going to lie,” said third-year software engineering major Gilynne Ganas. “I didn’t really care about it.”
Second-year criminology, law & society and psychology & social behavior double major Alex Guzman, who did vote this year, said, “I only did it because my friend was on the ballot.”
ASUCI Elections Commissioner Georgina Danial suggested that “lack of competition in many of the individual candidate races” was responsible for this year’s low turnout and unenthusiastic campaigning.
“Nearly all of the executive vice president positions, student advocate general and many senatorial positions only had one candidate running,” Danial said. “This lack of competition led to a sense of complacency among both candidates and voters. Candidates did not feel the need to go out and campaign, and voters did not see a point in voting for a race where there was a ‘guaranteed’ winner. This overall sense of apathy greatly hurt the turnout of the elections this year.”
This year’s voter turnout is not only a historic low for UCI, but is significantly low among other UC campuses as well. At UC Berkeley, a campus comparable in size to UCI, 11,706 students (about 46 percent of undergraduates) voted in ASUC spring elections this year. At UCLA last spring, about 8,000 students (27.5 percent of undergraduates) voted in student government elections, marking a low for the campus, where voter turnout is generally around 30 to 40 percent. UC Santa Cruz generally sees a similar percentage of turnout.
Before this election, UCI’s second-lowest voter turnout occurred in ASUCI’s May 2000 election, when just over 10 percent of undergraduates cast a ballot. Students at the time blamed a similar lack of publicity; the New University ran several editorials and news articles decrying that undergraduates “did not know” about the year’s elections, and that “voting numbers were less than half” of those from the previous year, 1999.
Danial says that to increase turnout in the future, ASUCI should promote races more thoroughly and ensure that a compelling group of candidates run for office.
“We need to make sure that more people are aware and interested in these elected positions in order to provide a sense of democracy and give voters the impression that they have options and agency in who they choose to elect,” she said.