Nominations for this spring’s student government elections opened up last Monday, and the Student Government Association is waiting for student nominations to come rolling in. This year, the SGA is making promotion of the elections a top priority and focusing on making the process easier for students.
“We want to get as many people nominated and as many people voting as we can,” said Will Gattis, a senior economics major and Vice-Chair of the Student Senate.
Along with senior political science major and student body Vice President Marpheen Chann, Gattis is a co-chair of the SGA election committee. Their goal is to make this year’s elections the most active elections in recent USM history.
One of the ways they’re doing that is by creating a specific, user-friendly website to make it easier for students to get involved. All information about SGA elections is now on USMVotes.com.
“It is a new external website which will allow us to enhance and improve the way we present information, candidates and voting in general,” said Chann. “Candidates will also have their own personal webpages that they will have the freedom to update. This will then lead them to directing students to the website for info about their candidacy…[and] theoretically will also get them to look at other candidates and general election information.”
“When all the nominations come in and it’s time to vote, students won’t just see the names of other students and choose one on a whim,” said Gattis. “We want these profiles to be personable and informative. If students can see the priorities of all of the candidates, they can align themselves with people who they align with.”
The new website was created using Weebly, a web-hosting service that features a “drag-and-drop” website builder, and solves a number of issues that have hampered SGA elections in the past.
In past years, the SGA website was not readily searchable through the main USM page and could only be accessed through another page or external link. Now it is one of the first that appears when searched on the USM website. The simple nature of the Weebly platform will also ensure that future SGA members will not have to worry about finding someone with the technical skills to build a website. According to Chann, the new website is already having an impact. “There has been decent traffic since Monday,” he said.
While voting has taken place online for several years, low voter turnout has always been an issue at USM. In spring of 2013, the elections only saw 609 counted votes out of the entire student body, an increase from the 146 votes cast the year before. Nominations for senate seats have been low as well, with senators frequently running in uncontested elections.
“[The seats on the senate] have been uncontested for the past few elections, and I really want to change that,” said Gattis.
At last Friday’s student senate meeting, Gattis encouraged other senators to nominate each other and to encourage leaders in the USM community to consider becoming members of the SGA.
“Every student pays a student activity fee, and the senators, they’re essential the guardians of that money,” said Gattis. “I love all of the people here [on the senate], but I would like to see all of the seats contested. It’s important that students get to choose who controls all of the money that they spend in student activity fees.”
The election committee has included information about how much students pay in activity fees per credit hour. A full-time student taking 12 or more credits spends $55 a year for their student activity fee, while part-time student pay less at different credit number intervals. All of these fees combined leave the SGA to oversee the distribution of over $500,000.
“For us to know what the students want, there need to be more students involved,” said Gattis.
SGA nominations will close on Friday, March 14 and voting begins just days later. Nomination forms can be picked up in the SGA office or via the elections website, USMVotes.com