University of Southern Maine student elections showdown: voter turnout higher than in recent years

Sokvonny Chhouk

Posted on April 01, 2013 in News
By Tom Collier

Though turnout for the  student elections this year was about four times greater than last year’s, Student Senate Chair Chris Camire believes that it could have been better. Those students who did vote elected a new president and senate and also gave approval for all but one of the referendum questions.

Of the 21 senate seats that were up for grabs, each one of them was filled. Students running for senate positions ran active campaigns, drawing in their classmates, colleagues and friends to vote.

“Turnout in this year’s election was much better than last year.” Camire said in a statement to The Free Press. “I’m pleased, but only to a degree. We had about 10 percent voter turnout. Most students aren’t informed or are apathetic of issues affecting their education on a daily basis.” Camire went on to say that the SGA could have done a better job at marketing itself as “for a lack of a better term — a complaint department for students.”

When asked why he thought the elections were more successful than they were in years past, Camire explained that the increase in student interest stemmed from a number of factors. “Last year, we ended up with an uncontested Student Body President election and very few candidates for senate. This year, we had two very strong presidential candidates that were connected in their communities on campus. That, coupled with 20 senate candidates and — unbeknownst to me — a write-in campaign for the final seat, led to each respective campaign doing what our marketing plan could only dream of.” Camire added that an increased social media presence further aided the SGA, allowing for the proliferation of media from the presidential debate, along with informative graphics and banners.

Referendum questions asking students whether they supported the renewal of faculty contracts, a university common hour and a vote on the smoking ban all passed without contest. And while the referendum that asked whether students would support a class scheduling change to ameliorate the availability of parking was heavily contested, the only referendum question that failed to gain voter approval was Question 4, which asked whether students would support an increase in the student activity fee by no more than 10 percent.

“Each referendum will be formally written up along with its respective polling results and submitted to the President’s Office, Board of Trustees, Faculty Senate and other offices and organizations based on the subject matter of each question,” Camire said. “Upon submitting the results to said offices, I will request a response as to how the issue will be addressed.”

Also up for the vote was the position of Student Body President. Isaac Misiuk and Kelsea Dunham ran against each other for the seat. Misiuk is a sophomore political science major and leads the USM College Republicans. Dunham is a junior pursuing degrees in both women and gender studies and business, and she is also the former vice president of the Gender Studies Student Organization. Dunham took the election with 64 percent of the student vote.

When asked how she felt about the March 11 presidential debates and the election process in general, Dunham said that she found them nerve-wracking, but believed they went well. “Grabbing the attention of voters, outside my own circle of friends, was difficult, as USM students don’t tend to participate in many events. That is one thing I’m looking to work on in the next year — changing the culture of  participation at USM.”

Misiuk shared Dunham’s outlook on the elections and the debate. “For the most part the process was great,” He told The Free Press in a statement. “However, a few minor changes could hugely benefit the student body.” Misiuk believes that extending the time frame of the campaigns would have helped the candidates present their respective messages to more of the student body and allowed for more time to formulate political platforms.

Both Misiuk and Dunham told The Free Press that they plan to work together in the future. “One recommendation that the Constitutional Review Committee of the Student Senate is working on is a way to add a Student Body Vice President role,” Dunham said. “If that happens, Isaac is my top choice, as he clearly has many great ideas, and, on the whole, I think we balance one another well.”