This past week, the Mount Allison Students’ Union handed down the result that a recent fall referendum—soliciting opinions on a $5 increase to student fees to fund the Winter Carnival—had failed to pass.
Sixty-four per cent of voters were in favour of the idea, which fell just two percent short of the two-thirds needed for the motion to pass. However, only twenty-nine per cent of students actually voted; this was above the requisite twenty-five per cent to form a quorum and make the referendum valid, but only marginally—a fact that many people found concerning.
Immediately after these results were given, there was a distinctly negative response to the perceived ‘voter apathy’ plaguing our campus. If only about one in four students cared enough about the democratic process to give up a minute of their time and make their voice heard, what kind of message does that send about our generation?
It’s official. Young adults these days are lazy and apathetic. The political scene of the coming years will be dominated by aging voices as the young ones refuse to speak up. The future is a grim tableau of fire, brimstone, and empty voting booths. The end truly is nigh.
Maybe, but that is a little premature. Take a step back and reconsider the issue that was debated for this referendum: a $5 increase to student fees to ensure that Winter Carnival events would be free of charge.
That’s $5 tacked on to our regular tuition fees that, for Canadian students, clock in at $7,245. International students pay more than double that, and this is all to say nothing of residence and meal plan costs. Most people aren’t likely to notice if the total fees change by $5 one way or another. It just isn’t a significant enough difference to merit lots of attention.
As well, it must be noted that this referendum was held not long before the start of midterm season. Students may find it hard to devote time to a $5 question when they’re more worried about questions on an exam a few days later. Honestly, I can not find fault in that kind of prioritization.
Perhaps the biggest root cause of this ‘voter apathy’ is the absence of information. The first time I heard about this referendum was when I saw the MASU email in my inbox. A search on Google revealed almost no description of what the Winter Carnival is, what the events are, or any other basic details beyond the fact that it apparently takes place in February.
Returning students likely had a bit more knowledge of the situation, but as a first-year, I felt a little concerned voting on an issue about which I wasn’t really informed. If there had been more information—or at least a little warning—it certainly could have encouraged more people to vote.
There was a similar problem with the recent MASU elections. The candidates gave speeches prior to the opening of the actual voting, but only about a dozen students came out to listen. This wasn’t simply a result of apathy: when asked, many students hadn’t even heard about the speeches.
The point is, claims of voter apathy in young adults are nothing new, but that doesn’t mean they are always accurate. We can’t expect busy university students to drop what they’re doing for every little problem, particularly without even providing opportunities to understand the problem itself. People are only going to vote if it’s an issue about which they both know and care, and they cannot do either if nobody tells them what is going on.
The lack of information on campus, if anything, should be the takeaway from this supposed instance of ‘voter apathy.’