It’s that time of year again. Soon, campus walkways will be overrun with painted pizza boxes bearing catchy hashtags while every glass door will become opaque with printed election promises. You will be ambushed by eager candidates at dinner, your Facebook notifications will become littered with page invites and you will probably be totally uninterested in all of it. That pinnacle of student apathy, the York University Student Union (YUSU) Elections, has returned for another year of small-scale campaigning. The real question remains, however, who really cares?
Not York students, apparently. Last year only around 5,000 students voted, a disappointing figure considering we have a student population of circa 15,000. We’ve actually become gradually less interested since 2012, with a turnout decline of 11.5%. Admittedly, these figures are in line with student union elections across the country but they do tell us something significant. For most students, union politics just don’t affect them enough to vote.
But, if we overlook the two thirds that don’t care we have to question why the remaining third do. The obvious answer is that YUSU do good things, and so people vote. So what have our departing full time officers, or Sabbs, actually done? Well, there’s now a hot water tap in the library (which is great) but there are still mass shortages of study space at peak times (not so great). University sport is at its best ever (also great) but many departments still have staff shortages (less great). Further on the negative side, there was the whole International Men’s Day fiasco and they’ve pulled card payment from YUSU outlets. But, our lovely president did spend his holidays cycling around York checking for flooding, so that’s still a bit great.
Take from this what you will, but ignore the people who say YUSU officers don’t do anything. Anyone who’s seen a Sabb’s schedule can tell you they work very hard, and our departing officers have been good at keeping the student body updated. YUSU do actually do stuff, therefore, but is this really why people are voting?
There is another aspect to the elections that frustrates many and that is college politics. Most predictions for YUSU President last year pointed to Ben Leatham. Why? He was the departing chair of Derwent College who turned out in force to get him elected. Get your college behind you and you’ve sorted most of your votes. This, sadly, paints the whole process as an extended popularity contest rather than a carefully considered debate. It’ll be less of a problem this year, however, since five of the presidential candidates are Vanbrugh.
The good news is that, if you are in the non-voting majority, none of this will particularly matter to you. Just tune out of the whole affair and enjoy the cringe-worthy slogans plastered across campus. If you are in the caring minority, however, it’s well worth checking manifestos and sussing out candidates to see if any of it actually affects you (because it probably does).