Originally published in The Mac Weekly.
Turnout for student government elections
sucks. The last round of elections, for FAC and Program Board Chair,
boasted a pitiful 26% voter turnout. Don’t like it? Here are five ways
to fix it.
1) Open the dorms. I get it. Nobody likes getting a knock on their
door from a campaign volunteer. But in the real world, campaign
volunteers will knock on your door and, heaven forbid, try to have a
conversation with you. Supposedly Mac students are adults, so I think we
can handle volunteers talking to us. After all, we already know that
they are fellow Mac students! Plus, door to door mobilization in real
electoral campaigns boosts turnout an average of one vote per fourteen
contacts, according to a series of field experiments. The present ban on
dorm canvassing is the worst barrier to voter mobilization described in
2) Election night party. Another way to boost turnout is by holding
an election party. Simply make the cover charge your completed ballot,
and offer free food and drinks for voters. Studies have shown such
festivals boost voter turnout in real elections, and this one would only
cost MCSG a few hundred bucks.
3) Make the vote public. I can find your name in the Republican Party
voter file, VAN on the left and on state records to discover if you
voted or not. Why not expand this to Macalester? Your name is already in
the directory, so adding voter history in MCSG elections would not be
difficult. This project could be a solid job for some work study student
who is otherwise sitting around doing homework.
Scared someone will know you didn’t vote? That’s the point. Social pressure can be awesome.
4) Loosen the campaign finance regime. I get it. We don’t want some
kid with a ton of money or outside support to buy their way into student
government. However, massive observational studies have illustrated
that a large amount of voter turnout in real elections is explained by
partisan mobilization efforts. However, those same efforts take money.
Loosening restrictions from their present $75 to maybe $150 could go a
long way to giving campaigns more options to mobilize voters, like the
funding to throw their own election night parties.
5) Open a physical voting station. Email-only ballots primarily
advertised through email are dumb. Voter mobilization efforts conducted
online actually backfire. One large study of email outreach at the
University of Minnesota found no increase in voting rates among
thousands of students who were emailed a reminder to vote. The theory
for why this happened: convenience. They made it too easy for people to
vote, so lazy individuals put it off until the election was over. A
polling station in your face lends the election some exigence: you are
confronted with voting in that moment, not some vague time later while
you are procrastinating on Buzzfeed.
In sum: If any of these reforms are implemented, I am confident voter
turnout will increase for campus elections. Now it’s your move, MCSG.