Uncertainty, strain on resources too great a challenge
Voter turnout at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) elections has been dropping precipitously—one Board of Administration (BOA) director was elected with only 10 votes in the recent by-election.
One suggested solution, which was brought forward in a motion to the recent General Assembly (GA) is the idea of mandatory voting. This would mean that all students at the University of Ottawa are required to vote in the SFUO elections.
Clearly the low voter turnout levels need to be addressed, and the sooner the better. A lack of participation hurts everyone, since elected officials receive less scrutiny, and relying on a small sample of the U of O population is not a reliable way to reflect the true wishes of the full student body.
To solve these and many other problems, getting most students involved in student politics is absolutely necessary.
However, mandatory voting rules is more of a superficial fix, since there’s no guarantee this method would actually increase how much students care about school politics.
As opposed to actually caring about the result students would more likely choose randomly just to prove that they voted, especially if they’re just doing it to avoid a financial penalty. This would essentially mean that random chance determines who is elected.
Now, the flip side to this argument is that by building a habit of voting among students, they will eventually care about the process over time.
However, this doesn’t address the fact that this whole mandatory voting proposal would be a logistical nightmare.
It’s been suggested that the SFUO could charge all students a fee at the beginning of the year and refund it when students have voted. At the surface level, the SFUO would have to keep track of who’s voting and go through a procedure to make sure they get their reimbursement.
This might be simple in concept, but, given the state of our student union right now, it would never work in execution.
Currently, the SFUO is working with a lower budget and fewer staff than usual as it sorts out its finances. It still has lots of administrative work on its plate, from businesses with management problems, to clubs applications that are overwhelming the equity department. Simply put, the student executive doesn’t need more administrative work to deal with, especially if it involves keeping track of the entire student body.
It’s a bit of a catch-22 that the SFUO can’t take a step to fix some of its problems because of other problems it’s facing, but there you have it.
At this stage, it would be far more effective to focus on other ideas for increasing engagement. For example, making the GAs more accessible to students or releasing more information via social media.
Mandatory voting is certainly something to study for the future, but given our current lack of information and resources at the U of O, the discussion should remain theoretical for the time being.