Online voting has the potential to increase student engagement. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik

Online voting reform could lead to increase in student participation

The Student Federation of University of Ottawa (SFUO) plays a large role in an average University of Ottawa student’s life—whether they know it or not.

As the University of Ottawa’s student union, they’re meant to be our voices when dealing with the school officials. They are the ones who make deals and decisions that are meant to have the best outcome for all the students in school.

However, to say that they truly represent the student population is questionable. Based on voter turnout data, for years the vast majority of said population isn’t voting to elect them—which essentially defeats the purpose of the institution.

Student participation in general elections has been steadily decreasing for the last few years. In 2014, 11.6 per cent of the students came out to vote, and for 2015 this number had fallen slightly to 11.47 per cent. For the SFUO’s general elections in 2016, this number had dropped even more dramatically, with only 7.82 per cent of students coming out to vote. The results for the by-elections and referendum votes are not much better.

At this point, only one question remains: how can this be fixed? Well, there is one solution that should be considered—online voting.

In this modern age, where one can broadcast their ideas in 140 characters (or less) and share cat videos in the blink of an eye, online voting for the SFUO seems to be the next logical step. The world has become increasingly intertwined with the Internet, where everything from banking, shopping, and communications can be done online.

So why can’t voting be online as well?

Generally speaking, online voting would be more convenient for the average student. Instead of forcing them to go out of their way to vote, students would be able to participate from the comfort of their classroom or dorm. This option would be especially beneficial during midterm and exam season, where no sane student would want to give up their precious study space in Morisset to go out and vote.

As for security concerns, the SFUO wouldn’t be the first student union to adopt online voting. Last year the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) unveiled a plan for online voting and is going forward with it. If other Canadian student unions can make a legitimate plan for online voting, the SFUO can too.

Online voting would also be a faster and more efficient opinion. Students would no longer have to wait in lines, or even search for polling stations. The SFUO could even send out emails reminding the students to vote, and have links that would direct students towards the voting site as well as the nominees’ respective platforms. This setup would also allow the students to become more informed voters.

Online voting is an option that could work. It would certainly make things easier, especially for students who are swamped with schoolwork. Also, by giving the SFUO more of an online presence, it could also increase the student executive’s profile at the same time.

It’s a real win-win.