The annual Student Union Society (SUS) elections are just over a month away.
With their elections policy amended last November, this will be the first election with some new changes in effect. Previously the chief electoral officer, an independent position hired to oversee the entire process, was expected to have all of the candidates vetted, approved, and posted on the SUS’s website when the nomination period closed.
“It never actually happened because it’s impossible,” current president Thomas Davies says.
The new policy includes a review period between the close of nominations and the start of campaign period for Guru Brar, this year’s officer, to complete his duties. As a result, the elected board members will take office in May — a month later than usual.
“We felt that was the best way to balance that,” Davies explained. “[The review process] is deliberately set up that it falls over reading break, which is essentially a dead time for most of the campus anyways,” Davies says. “From that, it was recommended by the board and then approved by the membership at the general meeting.”
These changes came following last year’s election, which went less than smoothly.
“Last election was a rather unfortunate series of events,” Davies says. All-candidates debates were poorly attended — by the candidates, with one even being cancelled because Davies was the only candidate there. Davies says in some cases the absences were excusable — hospital emergencies and class conflicts, but SUS is hoping to prevent anything similar from happening this year.
“The bigger issue, in my mind, is making sure we have student engagement at those events,” he says. “I’m expecting that one of those events will be in the Student Union Building here, which will help with the level of engagement, and SUS will be working to support [Brar] in the ways he sees best to get the word out and get students engaged in the election.”
Despite the low student attendance at the meetings, the amount of student votes has slowly risen in recent years. Last year’s election saw 473 students vote, compared to 315 in 2014 and 388 in 2013, though all the figures number under six per cent of UFV’s student population.
SUS has a strategic plan to increase the number of student votes, with a goal of eight per cent for this year’s election. That figure may seem small, but Davies says that for a school the size of UFV, they’re above average.
“It’s below the expectation of many large universities, but those universities have on-campus residence structures, which promote a higher level of engagement,” he says. “If you compare us to a similar style of university, for example, Capilano last year had 250 people voting in the election … we’re doing well for the type of university we are, but we definitely need to improve.” [Editor’s note: the 2015 election for the Capilano Student Union was voted on by 290 students.]
In order to attract a higher number of votes this year, SUS is planning an advertising campaign.
“That’s something that we haven’t done enough of in the past … the generic, non-partisan advertising saying that there’s an election happening,” he says. “We did more of that last year, included some really massive posters outside of [the office of the registrar] and the library and other places, which definitely caught some attention, and we’re definitely going to be rolling those out again.”
Davies also notes that the SUS will be paying for promoted Facebook posts and trying to promote the elections more on social media.
“It’s often said, and I’m speaking more broadly than SUS, that students don’t have an interest and don’t care and don’t want to think or look at anything involving politics or voting,” Davies says. “That’s just wrong. We’ve seen that with the most recent federal election — that shows that students vote.”
This election will also mark the end of Davies’ term as president.
“It’s bittersweet,” he says. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my three years involved in the Student Union. I feel I’ve been able to do a lot and bring a lot of positive change and positive growth to the organization, so I’m sad to leave that.”
Voting for the election will take place from March 7 to 10. The Cascade will have full coverage of candidates ahead of the election in its March 2 issue.