11.5 per cent—that’s the proportion of students who decided the fate of near $20 million budget.
It’s important to make this percentage feel real. Only 2273 of the total 19,801 eligible students voted in the AMS winter elections. This is an undeniable problem.
Since 2009, AMS fee-paying students have cast their ballots online, with a switch to the SimplyVote platform in 2015. However, for accessibility purposes and to spark dialogue on campus, Queen’s student elections need a hybrid voting model that includes the paper ballot.
Voter apathy is a greater societal issue not limited to students; the most recent Ontario provincial election saw the lowest voter turnout in provincial history. In both the case of Queen’s and the province, it’s the constituent who suffers.
However, abstention is also a part of democracy. Marginalized communities are understandably less likely to participate in a student government that consistently lacks transparency and only offers reactive “sympathy” in response to traumatic situations.
When I was covering the AMS winter elections, it floored me how many students didn’t know the election was happening—or worse, looked confused when I mentioned the AMS.
I don’t think Queen’s students are lazy or politically inactive. Hundreds of students lined up across three city blocks to vote in the 2021 Federal election.
Picture this; you’re an unsuspecting student walking through the Queen’s Centre. You see a line, Student Constables, and volunteers. You notice people voting, you ask some questions, and learn you have the option to vote online or in-person for your student government. You then cast your ballot in whatever format is most convenient to you.
Increasing opportunities to be physically present is essential to encourage dialogue and discussion. Considering the pandemic, people are craving physical presence but with hybrid options.
Evidence shows paper ballots help mobilize first-time voters, but digital voting is vital for students who may have disabilities or other concerns, making them invaluable to a fair, equitable election.
Studies on digital-only voting offer mixed results regarding impact on voter turnout—some even show a negative yield compared to options that include physical voting.
Though the hybrid model presents the challenge of increased cost, it’s worth the investment when the future of student life is on the line.
While establishing more voting options is important, there’s an onus on students to engage with elections. It’s vital we have opportunities to interact with referendum and candidate campaigns because some student politicians do amazing, essential work.
Look no further than the student Senators who fought for international students during the last wave of COVID-19 restrictions, or a Social Issues Commissioner who advocated for marginalized folks across campus.
Our student government needs to reflect everyone’s voices. Not just one friend group or “category” of student, but a broad mosaic representative of everyone on campus.
Think about what you’ll do the next time you read or hear something about Queen’s that triggers stronger emotions—will you get involved or let others decide for you?
Asbah is a third-year Biotechnology student and The Journal’s Senior News Editor.
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