Student Government midterm senate elections ran on Blackboard all day on October 11 and 12, yet student voter interest lags at the University of South Florida.
James Bodden, the student supervisor of elections, worked 25 hours a week for the elections for the past month. He kept the candidates and the election on target for a smooth process. The real work came with convincing students to vote.
“It can be frustrating, when we’re out 12 hours a day, 4 days a week and students just don’t respond.” Bodden said. “Or yell things like, ‘I don’t believe in democracy!’ and ‘I’m a Communist!’”
There were 13 Senate positions open and 35 candidates. Students voted for candidates in their own college only. The voting system leaves room for undecided majors or a double majors. Undecided students may choose a senator from the college of their choice. Double majors choose one college from the two.
Despite the fact that Student Government controls millions of dollars in student fees, it appears that many USF students do not see these elections as important.
“Who the hell cares?” asked Ryan Pettie, a senior and business major.
Student Government tried to fight the low voter turnout this midterm election. Hoping to spark interest in elections, they implemented more polling stations and gave away free T-shirts. Even with those efforts, Student Government recorded 2347 votes in this midterm election. That is only an 8 percent voter turnout.
Out of the 29,310 students at the USF Tampa campus, about 6,000 (or 20 percent) voted in last spring’s general election. That particular election garners more voters than the midterm election because of the strong marketing and many vacant positions, including the presidential position.
Bodden knows the Senate has purpose, though students don’t always recognize the daily happenings of Student Government.
“Senators are important because they are kind of the middleman between the common student and administration,” he says.
This election, there is a question on the ballot asking each voter to respond about the recently enacted 15 percent tuition hike, something that affects all students. This will provide data of student opinion for Student Government to present to administration.
When Student Government confronts questionable decisions, the administration seems to listen. Last year the provost attempted to introduce the Global Experience Fee, which would have cost students $10 each to go towards study abroad scholarships. Student Government brought this to the attention of the Florida Board of Governors, whom decided against the extra charges. The board vote was 4-1.
“These scholarships would not have benefited all students, and they mostly affected need based students.” Bodden said. “It really wasn’t a neutral fee.”
Candidates such as Loren Saunders hit the pavement hard. Saunders, a senior, had her bid in for the College of Arts and Sciences and eventually won her election. You can have found her tacking flyers to walls and talking to students. Look hard enough and you may even see a pale residue from her midnight campaign chalking sessions.
Saunders campaigned because she wants to give back to USF and inform students what Student Government can do for them. You participate in it, and Student Government funds it: USF Homecoming, Safe Team, student organizations, campus recreation, etc.
“We make huge decisions. Big money issues. That makes the difference for all students.” Saunders added that Student Government affects each student and that, “it’s the only foundation to actually make big change in the way things are run through the school.”