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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Column: Students should vote for the representation they deserve from the SA

A grand total of 2,190 students turned out to vote in last month’s Student Association election — a crowd that wouldn’t fill half the seats in the Smith Center. GW students take pride in being politically active, but we’ve fallen short of our responsibility to vote on the most direct form of representation we have at GW.

To increase voter turnout in SA elections, candidates for office need to promote election awareness and clean up the SA’s reputation, while students should create an organization dedicated to solving this issue. A small fraction of the student body shouldn’t decide next year’s election. If we want better representation in the SA, we need to vote for it.

GW’s impressive voter turnout in national elections proves that our student body takes civics seriously — 69 percent of students voted in the 2020 presidential election. In a race where Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) stopped to campaign at the University Student Center, students were more than motivated to exercise their right to vote.

Although GW’s student voter turnout in U.S. elections is above the national average for American higher education institutions and steadily climbing, voter turnout in SA elections continues to plummet. Last month’s election had GW’s lowest voter turnout in 10 years. If that statistic sounds familiar, it’s because we sunk to the same embarrassingly low mark in 2022. A whopping 8.5 percent of the roughly 25,000 eligible students voted in the 2023 SA elections, down from 10.4 percent turnout in 2022’s race.

If voter turnout’s downward spiral continues, the SA will lose a little more of its legitimacy with every year that passes. The Joint Elections Commission blamed the pandemic for low turnout in 2020 and 2021. Last year, the JEC heralded the return of “in-person campaigning” as the fix for GW’s voter turnout dilemma. But 2022’s election turned out even fewer students than 2021’s race did. Pandemic excuses for poor turnout didn’t work this year, and they won’t work in 2024, either.

While students might be tempted to only focus on next year’s nationwide general elections, we should also make the 2024 SA election a political priority. Though their needless legislation and performative arguments might convince you otherwise, the SA’s chief purpose is the promotion of students’ interests.

The SA will have a $1.31 million budget for the next school year, and its members will be responsible for allocating about $900,000 in funding to GW’s more than 500 student organizations and club sports teams. And over the last decade, the SA worked with officials to extend fall break and bring a freshman forgiveness policy to GW, allowing students to retake one course from their first year if they received a D+ or lower.

The student body should know about elections well before they take place, but candidates aren’t taking advantage of their in-person campaigning opportunities. Students once packed Kogan Plaza for the SA’s annual postering day, when candidates sprint to advertise their campaigns on the most visible walls and walkways on campus. Only two SA candidates showed up in 2022, though, and a total of six candidates participated in 2023’s postering day.

Candidates must commit to full-fledged, in-person campaigns in 2024 and beyond. If aspiring student leaders co-host their campaign events with club sports, Greek organizations and every student group in between, election awareness could skyrocket.

Campaign staffs are historically a huge component of successful SA bids, but recently, some candidates have stopped treating elections as a team sport. Fortunately, many hands make light work, and GW is full of students who would give up a lot for a little campaign experience. By growing their campaign staffs, SA hopefuls will have the personnel to host large-scale events like intramural soccer tournaments and informal happy hours that create buzz for the election.

While candidates work on outreach, the rest of the student body should create a campus organization that’s solely dedicated to promoting voter turnout in SA elections. When GW students outvoted our peers at other schools in 2020’s U.S. presidential election, we didn’t do it by ourselves. We had help from GW Votes, the Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service’s task force focused specifically on getting students to the ballot box. By working with candidates to plan debates, fundraisers and information sessions to encourage students to vote, the group can organize creative programming for future SA contests that mirrors GW Votes’ success.

The SA is so unpopular on campus that students nearly elected a candidate who pledged to get rid of the governing body in 2019. When more than 90 percent of the student body fails to vote, though, we forfeit our representation, leaving the SA’s members with no check on their worst impulses.

Last summer, former SA President Christian Zidouemba suffered an attempted coup d’etat at the hands of his own cabinet. And if that didn’t convince students of the SA’s delusions, the JEC’s decision to disqualify three candidates from the ballot took care of any doubts. Amid their relentless political grandstanding, student leaders damaged the trust their constituents put in them. On its best day, the SA seems disconnected from campus, but it’s a downright embarrassment to the student body on its worst. To earn students’ respect, SA members should stay out of The Hatchet’s headlines and start governing responsibly.

Remember that there are two elections to look out for next year. By running meaningful in-person campaigns, replicating GW Votes’ progress and repairing the SA’s relationship with students, we can boost turnout in SA elections one vote at a time.

Matthew Donnell, a junior majoring in political communication and English, is an opinions columnist.

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