Flyers, stickers, and tee shirts, oh my! Associated Students election campaigning in the spring quarter can feel suffocating and pointless at times. Last year, fewer than 40 percent of the undergraduate student body voted, continuing a downward trend in voter turnout that points to increasing voter apathy.
This is bad. The candidates in office matter, and decisions made in the elections influence, and sometimes directly dictate (with lock-in fee votes) where thousands of dollars go on the University of California, Santa Barbara’s campus. Every student that brings a problem to AS must convince those elected to support their chosen cause—sometimes a dubious proposition.
It is understandable why the average undergraduate would be turned off by the whole election. The constant blitz of haranguing party members from the Open People’s Party (OPP) and the Democratic Process Party (DPP) is enough to exhaust many students just trying to get from one class to the next. Last year, the total voter turnout was 7,001 undergraduates, but only approximately 5,000 unique votes were recorded for a number of AS Senate races and lock-in fees. That means that every undergraduate vote effected visible change in the final vote percentage tallies in some races, as every vote altered the percentage by about two hundredths of a percentage point. As fewer undergraduates vote, those that do become increasingly influential. This ought to be incentive enough to get out and vote.
Also, voting simply along party lines is not enough to ensure that just one cut and dry ideological machine gets into power. Even though OPP took every Senate position but one last year, the Senate entertains a diversity of ideologies. Ansel Lundberg, a third-year English and geography double major, is a current senator for the College of Letters and Science. A candidate for DPP in last year’s elections who took over for a resigning senator, Lundberg is familiar with the election process, and thinks that “it’s kind of a strange system to have parties; neither of them technically exist until elections roll around.” Political parties on campus only spring into being for the election cycle, and during most of the academic year, there are no formal political party functions. The difference between parties is “not as obvious once elections are over,” Lundberg said. “Current leadership in Associated Students has good balance.”
Most issues AS deals with are rather benign, and cut softly along varying ideological rifts between elected students. In the past academic year, arguably the most divisive issue centered on Janet Napolitano and her new position as president of the University of California system. Frankly, it has been a pretty quiet year as far as AS infighting goes. So why does it matter who gets elected?
Last year, AS dealt with an issue commonly known as “divestment,” which dealt with a resolution to divest from specific companies connected with Israel. This resolution received so much support and backlash that most people on campus heard about it. It failed in a 12-11-1 vote, where just one more yes vote would have passed it. The fundamental beliefs of the students elected dictate whether or not contentious resolutions like that pass.
Do not be surprised if AS deals with resolutions that are equally divisive in the future. Those who do not vote in the upcoming elections will have no say in their outcome, and nobody to blame but themselves if the result is unfavorable. Vote—if everybody does, then the representation will be perfectly representative of the student body. If almost nobody does, your vote will carry that much more weight.