More than 720 first-years voted in the most recent Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate election, greater than the number of first-year voters in 2015 and 2014, the two most recent years where this data is readily available. Increasing voter turnout is especially important given the low rates of participation in the past for TCU president and Senate elections. This increase in participation is a positive step forward, but we believe that more can be done to continue to boost turnout.
It seems very likely that TCU increased turnout by making the election process and voting more accessible and user-friendly. With the new election platform Voatz, the days of being redirected to multiple pages on SIS to reach an off-center and finicky election website are gone. Now students can vote on their phone or computer with one click or scan of a QR code. Importantly, as students walked into the Mayer Campus Center, they were greeted by Voatz representatives holding iPads to vote with right then and there.
This new approach was beneficial for two reasons. First, it made the process significantly more straightforward. If any students had difficulty using the platform, a representative from Voatz would be right there to answer any questions they might have had. Secondly, it served as an important reminder to vote. The Campus Center, as its name implies, is one of the most central locations at Tufts. The multitudes of first-years passing through were likely reminded to vote by the representatives standing by.
Having a high rate of turnout for student elections is very important in order to ensure that those who are elected represent the full range of views of the student body. In the past, however, TCU elections have had abysmal turnout. Slightly less than a quarter of Tufts students voted in non-presidential student government elections in April 2016, which itself was an increase from the eight percent who voted in the election the year before that.
While the new system under Voatz is an important step forward, we believe that the university and the TCU Elections Commission (ECOM) should explore alternative measures to further boost student government election turnout.
One suggestion we have that should be implemented is a “voting fair” similar to the Civics Fest held on Tuesday in the Campus Center. If students can get free food after showing proof of voting, especially in a central location on campus, they would be incentivized to vote in order to join in. Organizations such as Jumpstart and the Leonard Carmichael Society could also have booths there to describe other ways that students can be involved in a positive way in the Tufts community.
While the increase in turnout is commendable, that should not lull ECOM into a false sense of security. Instead, we should continue to explore new methods to broaden participation.