Simple adjustments can be made to the AMS referendum process to ensure students understand the influence their vote has.
For a second year in a row, MUSE Magazine’s $0.50 opt-out fee proposal failed to pass in a referendum. 50.9 per cent of voters voted against the establishment of the fee last week, while 803 voters abstained.
Students have a confounding tendency to oppose the implementation of inexpensive opt-out fees. This shone through in the 4,065 total abstentions to six opt-out fees on this year’s ballot — none of which exceeded $1.25.
It was also clear in the amount of “no” votes on non-controversial proposals — including 21.5 per cent disapproval to an $0.08 Queen’s Diabetic Society fee.
The high number of abstentions and “no” votes might indicate a fundamental misunderstanding from voters of what referendums actually are.
Students could be unaware that when they vote “yes” to establishing an opt-out fee, it doesn’t mean they’ll automatically have to pay it. Instead, they’re merely giving a club the opportunity to ask for financial support from students later on, which students are able to decline as they wish.
When a student votes “no” to establishing an opt-out fee, they’re essentially saying the club has no value and shouldn’t exist.
The onus is partially on clubs to advertise themselves and explain their value to students, but MUSE’s staff did more than the average club to promote themselves, by posting on social media, running a campaign in the Queen’s Centre and publishing notices on their website and the AMS’s.
The AMS has made efforts to encourage voter turnout, but the meaning of each type of referendum question should be clarified. This could come in the form of a brief explanation that accompanies email notices and the online ballot.
Another issue with the referendum — one that’s more difficult to address — is that a lot of votes may be based on recognition of keywords.
Advocacy clubs — ones that students may have never heard of, but that contain buzzwords such as “children”, “charity” and “illness” — likely aren’t scrutinized to the same degree as other student organizations. When recognizable, emotionally-charged words aren’t in the club name, students could be more inclined to abstain or vote “no”.
One way to combat this would be to include a short description of each club alongside the referendum question — similar to those provided for faculty society senator and representative candidates.
A brief explanation of what it means to “abstain”, meanwhile, could go a long way to prevent misuse of the option.
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