Recent election statistics show YUSU’s failure to engage the University population in our internal democracy. Despite voter numbers climbing to 3587 in last year’s equivalent elections, numbers fell down to 3304 this year. At what point does the participation rate reach such a low level that something can be seen as undemocratic?
The average voter turnout across the colleges was 20.6 per cent overall. Essentially, one in five of us voted. With such low turn-out rates, can the newly elected officials truly say they have been voted in by their college, or just the minority few who chose to vote?
Taking what 20.6 per cent of a population thinks as representative of the whole University population is a dangerous game. This logic wouldn’t make sense anywhere else in society. It would be the same as concluding that all Skittles are green simply because one in five of them are. It would be wrong to conclude that all members of the Mystery Gang were dogs.
In the 2018 YUSU elections, a 30 per cent voter turnout was registered. This was described by YUSU as “the highest ever in a YUSU election”. Yet even this greater turn-out is still dangerous to call democratic. You’d end by concluding that all of the numbers from one to ten start with the letter “t” just because two, three and ten were the only ones that could be bothered to answer your vote. Someone who followed 30 per cent of the ten commandments couldn’t be credited as a good Christian. So, how can a democracy credit itself as a democracy when it only listens to 30 percent of its population?
Is this a university problem or a reflection of wider societal issues? “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” Bill Vaughan’s famous quote has long symbolised the juxtaposition of a society which places such an importance on democracy and, yet, has such poor voter turnout in its own elections. According to reports, the US averages 60 per cent voter turnout in its presidential election years and this drops to 40 per cent for mid-terms. In the latest mid-terms the United States Elections Project estimated a 49.2 per cent voter turnout, thus breaking all previous records for midterms. That’s not even half. What a testament it is to the University of York’s democracy that this half can be seen as impressive when you compare it to our 20.6 per cent.
With democracy in such a state on the global stage, is it much of a surprise that turn-out rates are also so low in student elections? Although the quantity of electoral campaign posters coating our kitchen walls might imply it, JCRC positions are arguably slightly less important than roles within the US Senate. With less than half of the US population turning up for the latter, could it be argued that our election turn-out rates in the university are simply suitably low for what is seen as less important results?
Or is this something we should be worried about? Poor turn-out on the inter-national and national stage cannot be used as an excuse for low student election turnout. It is instead a symptom of the same problem: voters don’t care. Is it possible that we live in a society which no longer cares about the way it is run? Certainly, it would appear students don’t care that much about their JCRCs, but what about government?
The larger issue of getting people, young people especially, engaged is an incredibly difficult one to do. It’s also one that a student journalist at the University of York isn’t going to find the solution to in the Comment Section of the student paper. There is perhaps hope for re-form within the University of York. Pressure on YUSU to change its policies and to place greater emphasis on voter turnout should be a main aim. This could mean that the opportunity for young people to be elected into positions at university could somehow stop being overlooked.
The fact it is being over-looked is in itself a wasted opportunity to provide a vital part of our education. Similar practices across educational institutions would potentially be providing a detrimental effect on wider society.By no means am I stating that a YUSU change of policy could change the way our democracy works, but by engaging its members in these small-scale elections it could create individuals who are more inclined to engage with wider politics.
As an institution made up primarily of young adults, YUSU has a duty to do this, not just for politics students, but for its entire community. These statistics represent the fact that YUSU is failing to do this. The need for reform is ever-present.