Friday, March 28, 2014

Improving MCSG vote turnout

Originally published in The Mac Weekly.

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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 this column.

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.

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