In light of continued COVID-19 closures and precautions, this year’s ASUCR elections were once again conducted entirely online. All students received a personalized ballot link via email, with polling hours opened from 8:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m., Monday, April 19 to Friday, April 23.
In an email interview with The Highlander, Elections Director Lama Yassine stated that she feels the Elections Committee and she did well, given the unusual circumstances. They reportedly had many candidates and voters alike talk to them about how fun the elections process was in spite of its remote status. “I am incredibly grateful for the hard work of the elections committee,” she stated. “They have done a phenomenal job in pulling off a job that nobody has done virtually before.”
According to Yassine, they had around 14.1% of students who voted, compared to last year’s online voter turnout, which was lower at 11.4% of the student population. She added that the voter turnout for this year was even more significant due to the lack of referenda on the ballot, which Yassine affirmed is often “a main driving source” behind the amount of students who participate.
Still, Yassine admitted that planning and conducting the elections process was not without some challenges. One of the biggest issues of this year was the fact that there were fewer candidates. Once eligibility confirmations were made, there were only 47 total students running for ASUCR positions, versus 86 students from the year prior. “This actually makes it harder to get students out to vote, because a huge part of our voters, ~26% according to a study done by the SVC (Student Voice Committee), vote simply because they know a candidate personally,” she said. According to Yassine, with a lack of competition, there is also less of a demand for candidates to create larger campaigns that might reach more people.
Another obstacle that carried over from last year was the difficulty of student outreach due to UCR’s closed campus. Yassine explained that it can be extremely challenging to reach and connect with other students on a virtual platform, as opposed to an in-person setting, in which students would normally be encountering obvious outreach efforts while walking across campus, like tabling events.
In order to combat this, Yassine and the Elections Committee concentrated much of their efforts on social media outreach, from nightly Instagram lives to online conventions for candidates in which voters were free to interact and ask questions about each running individual. In addition, the Elections Committee heavily utilized giveaways as an incentive to participate. “I wanted to ensure that people could interact with us virtually and knew where to find us and wanted to gain the attention for it to be possible through these giveaways,” Yassine stated.
She told The Highlander that they are very much aware of the fact that around 50% of students only participate in these elections just for the accompanying prizes. Knowing this, the committee created surveys to find out what prizes the student population would be most interested in and held giveaways that required sharing with other friends and knowing some trivia about the ASUCR election. Prizes ranged from restaurant and shopping gift cards to iPads. According to Yassine, this was met with positive feedback from other students. She added that when considering the types of prizes that would be given, she took into account how the pandemic has been negatively impacting people. “I know how many students were struggling during the pandemic. I wanted to use the budget as much as I could to give back to the students,” Yassine stated.
When thinking about the future, Yassine claims that there needs to be a better way to clear up all the misconceptions that students have about student government and voting. “Many seniors think they can’t vote. Many STEM students think they’re ineligible to vote. Many students don’t think voting in ASUCR elections will benefit them or realize the potential of what ASUCR officials can do,” she stated. While she made efforts toward educating students on the topic, Yassine stated that there is still a significant part of the student population that is not well acquainted with ASUCR and their contributions to the university community.
Yassine believes that one way to combat this problem is to make an interactive effort to introduce UCR’s student government to incoming students during their orientation. “We can’t expect students to see how ASUCR applies to all of them if we are just another tent at orientation for students to walk past,” she stated. Yassine would like to see ASUCR being consciously included in the orientation presentations so students can know how this student government functions on campus, how to access representatives and how effective ASUCR can be in addressing and implementing student demands. In doing this, Yassine affirmed that the added effect would also likely help increase freshmen involvement with ASUCR. In turn, there would be more candidates running for office, higher voter turnout and stronger representation of the diverse student population experience at UCR.
“The ASUCR officials are nothing without the students,” she concluded. For those interested, the results of the election will be announced on Tuesday, April 27 at 8:30 p.m. through an @asucr_elections Instagram live.