Why Didn’t Anyone Vote in the Student Government By-Election?
story | Terence Anthony Wang, Arts Editor
photo | Dean of Students Office
With less than 24 hours remaining before the Jan. 19 deadline, the first Yale-NUS Student Government by-elections faced the possibility of nullification due to low voter turnout. By Wednesday midnight Jan. 18, the total number of votes stood at 243, more than a hundred votes below quorum of 375 votes, 50% of the student body, as defined in the Yale-NUS Student Government Constitution. This marked the latest development in a trend of apathy towards the Yale-NUS Student Government since its inception.
The January by-elections were initiated by the resignations of five student representatives at the end of last semester. They concluded on Thursday midnight with a total vote count of 421 votes out of 650 potential votes, comprizing 65% of the student body, including seven spoilt votes. Clin Lai ‘18 and Matthew Ware ‘18 acquired 82% and 81% ‘Yes’ votes respectively, and were therefore successfully voted in as new members of the Yale-NUS Student Government. Despite ultimately reaching quorum, the turnout rate of 65% for the College’s first ever by-elections created a disappointing precedent.
Warning signs had already appeared prior to the by-election, during the nomination period. Out of a list of at least 119 nominees (as of Jan. 5, 2017), only two accepted their nominations, resulting in a low acceptance rate of 1.68%. The by-elections failed to fill the five vacancies, causing a downsize of the government even before the by-elections had begun.
The dip in student participation for the by-elections prompted a vigorous response from members of the By-Election Committee. In a college-wide email sent on Thursday, By-Election Committee Chair Joceline Yong ’18 noted “a disappointing lack of civic participation and the highest levels of voter apathy in the history of Yale-NUS,” and urged students to rectify the situation by voting as quickly as possible. Other students also aided the effort by raising awareness through social media and reminding the community of the importance of voting as a civic duty.
Members of the student body stated timing, commitment and a lack of understanding of both the functions of the Yale-NUS Student Government and election rules as reasons for reduced student participation.
Brandon Lee ’20, the Government’s Director for Athletics and Liaison to Infrastructure said that the high level of commitment required for Yale-NUS Student Government members was a significant consideration for potential candidates. “I think by the second semester, people have […] locked in their commitments already,” Lee said.
Lee also offered the by-election timeline as a major reason for the poor participation. The nomination period and election period were separated by the month-long winter break. “Timing wasn’t ideal; but under the circumstances, it was the best we (the Yale-NUS Student Government) could do,” Lee said.
Kavya Gopal ’18, a volunteer member of the By-Election Committee, listed the lack of campaigning as well as the by-elections’ purpose in filling empty posts as reasons for voter apathy. “Also, the two people who were running are from the class of 2018 [and] returning from study abroad, so the freshmen really don’t know who they are,” she said. Crystal Low ’20 said that she did not know much about the candidates prior to discussing them with her friends, remembering Ware as the “guy with the weird hashtags that [she] couldn’t understand.”
Some students were unaware of the quorum, as well as the minimum number of “Yes” votes (50) needed for each candidate. Low said, “I thought it would be considered a walkover.”
Both Lee and Gopal acknowledged that the election rules were not fully understood by the student body. They affirmed the need for better communication from the Yale-NUS Student Government and By-Election Committee in future elections regarding the quota rules, so as to prevent such misunderstandings.
Khwa Zhongxuan ’20, also a member of the By-Election Committee, said that the student body needed to take greater initiative in participating in, and caring about, governance of the College. “If you look at the changes happening around school, a lot can be linked back to Student Government,” Khwa said. “In the past, it was easier for individuals to make direct requests towards the administration, but it’s harder to do so now.” He said that this necessitates the existence of a more centralised body, which the student government provides. Khwa acknowledged, however, that many of the successful initiatives undertaken by the Government may not necessarily be attributed to them.
Saza Faradilla ’18, President of the Yale-NUS Student Government, agreed that the student government needed to better communicate its contributions to student welfare, as well as election processes. She pledged to continue “doing real things that create real change,” in the hopes of further legitimizing the student government as an institution. Faradilla also said that her administration is putting effort into maintaining consistent weekly updates as well as poster updates in College lifts to ensure that the student body is always abreast of these changes.
Members of the student government expressed confidence in the smooth continuation of its work throughout the coming semester, despite a nett loss of members. “The Council is in fact more motivated to do a better job… we are determined to let others know that there is no one-man show in the student government,” Lee said. He praised the strong core team for their work in ensuring a smooth transition period. Faradilla added that all the major roles that had been vacated by the outgoing members had been quickly taken on by other student representatives, leaving the government short only of backbenchers.
While voter apathy remains a serious concern in the short term, President Faradilla said she was optimistic about improvements in the future. “I don’t think voter apathy will continue,” she said. “When we were still in RC4, I think we got used to that direct line of communication [with the College administration], and some people are still used to that.” She said she believed that the current size of the College, however, has made such direct communication much more difficult, and the student government’s role thereby becomes ever more vital.
Ware and Lai have taken up positions as Co-Directors of Academics in the Student Government.