The 2014 AMS fall referendum, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, saw the highest voter turnout since 1995, according to figures from AMS Information & Policy Officer Greg McKellar.
5,478 students voted in the referendum and voter turnout was at 34.1 per cent. Dating back to and including 1996, the highest voter turnout was 32 per cent in 2007.
In 2013, voter turnout for the fall referendum was 15.8 per cent; in 2012, it was 26.33 per cent and in 2011, 29 per cent.
All fee proposals in this fall’s referendum — seven of which were mandatory and fifteen subject to individual opt-out — were successful. Students were given the option to select “yes”, “no” or to abstain from voting, although abstentions weren’t counted in final percentages.
94.3 per cent of participating students answered “yes” to a plebiscite question asking if they wished to see the ReUnion Street Festival established as an annual Homecoming event.
Vice-President of University Affairs Philip Lloyd told the Journal via email that the AMS is “thrilled to see such overwhelming support from the student body for the continuation of the ReUnion Street Festival.”
“With this strong sentiment from students, we will continue to work with the Festival Oversight and Planning Committee, comprised of the AMS executive and university stakeholders, on how best to institutionalize the Festival for future homecomings,” said Lloyd, ConEd ’13.
AMS Commissioner of Internal Affairs Claire Cathro said it’s generally more difficult to spur student interest and involvement in the fall referendum compared to the executive election. She added that she didn’t expect turnout to be as high as it was.
Cathro, ArtSci ’15, said part of the increase could be attributed to this year’s new voting software, Simply Voting, which allowed students to vote using their Net ID and password rather than having to copy usernames and passwords e-mailed to them.
Using the new software, the AMS can also determine who is voting, enabling them to conduct tailored marketing strategies towards certain groups.
“[W]e can kind of determine where we’re not having a great voter turnout from certain subsets of the population and potentially trying to say, okay, what issues or what fees are very important to specifically engineering students or commerce students or ArtSci students,” Cathro said.
“So how can we better target those voters that may not have a lot of information about what they’re voting for, may not really see how it affects them?”
She added that many of the groups on this year’s ballot were important to students, citing Bus-It and SHRC as examples.
“It was things that students were interested in and wanted to get behind,” she said.
On the first day of the referendum, the AMS set up three stationary polling booths for students to cast their vote using an iPad. On Wednesday, members of the election team walked around with iPads to encourage voting.
Cathro said there are plans to continue these practices for the winter referendum and election, “targeting different locations where we would have these stationary polling booths or where we would send students to try and get people to vote.”
This was the first year that abstention was an option since the AMS moved to online voting in 2009. AMS policy allows for students to spoil or reject their ballot, but when the referendum moved online there was no mechanism in place to enable it.
“We felt it was important to give students that option this year based on feedback we received from students at the end of last year and to be in accordance with our current policy,” Cathro told the Journal later via email.
The Union Gallery saw a $4 opt-out fee approved in the referendum, with 57.1 per cent voting “yes”, 42.9 per cent voting “no” and 16.6 per cent abstaining.
This comes after the gallery’s mandatory fee proposal failed to pass in 2012, after having been in place since 1994.
Union Gallery Director Jocelyn Purdie said the passing of the fee will allow the gallery to “build back to what we had before”, adding that she was surprised by the number of abstentions.
“I don’t know how we’d figure it out, but does it mean there are people that just don’t know about us, or don’t know enough about us and is there a way that we can kind of increase awareness around the gallery, which is something we’re in the process of looking at,” Purdie said.
Lindsey Wilson, president of the Union Gallery’s Board of Directors, said it’s difficult to compare this vote to previous ones regarding the gallery, given that this vote was for an opt-out fee, while previous proposals were for mandatory fees.
By consulting with the AMS and elected representatives, Wilson, ArtSci ’15, said she thinks they’ve learned what must be done so that “students are engaged and supportive of the gallery”.
“[The Union Gallery] provides really amazing learning opportunities for students,” she said, “and I’m really excited that we’re going to be able to expand on that and get more students in and learning about the arts.”
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