Increased voter turnout shows promising future for SGA

The voter turnout rates for the recent Student Government Association (SGA) spring election tripled from previous years, showing a change in trend after historic student engagement lows over the past six years.

Sophomore Jessica Bergman took on the role of Student Government Association (SGA) Elections Operations Board (EOB) chair with the goal of increasing voter turnout to 1,000 students. This goal became a reality when 1,123 students voted during May 1-4, according to SGA election results, ushering in a new era of SGA student leaders.

“This election cycle showed me how important it is that the student body elects representatives and how pivotal the candidates are in the voter turnout rates,” Bergman said. “A lot of individual races in this election were contentious, and I think that drove the candidates to advertise the election more than they would have.”

According to data from Bergman, only 351 students voted in the 2022 SGA election. This was less than 2% of the student body and nearly a 40% decrease from the previous year’s election where 595 students voted. This year’s turnout saw 6% of the student body participating in the SGA election.

Kiersten Riedford

Bergman attributed the recent years’ decrease in turnout to the impact of Covid-19 on campus life. She said the pandemic meant election advertising was less effective as students were not on campus and less active on the university and SGA social media pages. 

“We are learning, as we come out of the pandemic,” Bergman said. “T​he elections have not been advertised as much as is needed. It is difficult to tell just how much you need to reach out to students.” 

Freshman Emma Lee Macosko voted in the SGA election after seeing yard signs advertising the election around the Lincoln Park campus and receiving one of the mass emails from SGA with the voting link attached. She said her votes were based on the candidates’ biographies within the voting form.

“All I had were those [candidate] blurbs, so I based my votes on who seemed like they put in the most work into telling me what they wanted to do in their position,” Macosko said. “I would’ve liked to know a little bit more about the candidates before I went into the voting, but I wasn’t really sure where to find any more information. I went off of what was given to me.”

Parveen Mundi, sophomore and SGA president, and her running mate Avery Schoenhals, sophomore and SGA vice president, won the election with 52.18% of the votes, or 586 students. She said they used their digital campaign, like social media, to increase awareness about their candidacy and encourage students to vote.

“[Schoenhals] and I really wanted to earn the student vote, so we used the platform as a tool for interacting with students,” Mundi said. “This worked out well because it was convenient to direct potential voters to the page as a resource hub. Making sure voters are informed and feel they have the opportunity to really make a decision is so important.”

Mundi said the overall voter engagement is not something that can change within one year or one election but that any increase is a promising sign for the future. 

“The work of [Bergman] was a major contribution,” Mundi said. “She implemented both passive and active marketing strategies that, in addition to competitive elections, drove turnout.”

Bergman’s marketing tactics as EOB chair included yard signs, sidewalk chalk and flyers across both campuses advertising the SGA election. She said the yard signs and sidewalk chalk were likely more effective because they were in high traffic areas. 

“If I were to stay in this role for next year, I would like to utilize social media more effectively,” Bergman said. “I want to do more than posts and try different things to draw students in. If I do not stay in this role, I would like to see the next EOB chair continue the goal of increasing turnout and eventually trying to make elections a much bigger deal than they used to be.”

Bergman said she received positive reaction to her marketing tactics as more students heard about and participated in the election. She and Mundi agree that there is still work necessary to keep increasing voter turnout after this year.

“I think it will take work to keep the voter turnout where it is, but that we are on the way up,” Bergman said. “It seems like a lot of students heard about the election this year, and I hope they stay interested enough to vote in future elections.”