During last month’s Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union (MUNSU) election, ballots were counted for only one out of five executive positions that students attending the St. John’s campus could vote for.
Candace Simms defeated Noah Davis-Power by more than 700 votes for the position of executive director of external affairs, communications and research. The remaining four positions were filled by acclamation.
Simms attracted 963 votes, while Davis-Power garnered support on 217 ballots. That combined total of 1,180 votes cast is considerably lower than the average number cast per executive position with the union during the course of the last five elections.
An average of 1,984 votes were tallied in 2012 for three positions involving eight candidates. In years before, that average exceeded 3,000, with votes cast to determine the victor in four executive positions.
The 2013 vote also marked the first time in the last five elections that only one of the executive positions merited a vote. There was peak interest in executive positions in 2011, when 13 people put their names forward as candidates. The year before that, there were 12.
The five director at large seats have also been acclaimed for each of the last two years. MUNSU’s elected board of directors has 40 representatives, including the five executive member positions.
Does this indicate there is a sense of apathy towards the activities of the students’ union at MUN, a body tasked with spending more than $1 million annually?
“I think the low voter turnout really does correlate with the high number of acclamations,” suggests Travis Perry, director of finance and services with the union. “I do see the fact that when there’s many candidates running, especially for the executive positions, there’s obviously going to be a lot more members going out there and voting.”
Simms, who is currently MUNSU’s director of advocacy, said it was surprising to see so few candidates come forward this year.
“It was a little surprising, and I can’t speak for everyone, but talking to the other candidates, a lot of people were pretty humbled ... and shocked that they were acclaimed,” she said.
Simms adds that students are aware of other ways to get involved in the affairs of the union, such as through involvement in committees or by attending public meetings or getting in touch with the elected board members.
Lisa Murphy, current director of external affairs, communications and research, agrees.
“Just because people don’t have an exact title on the students’ union, whether they’re an executive member or board member, doesn’t mean that they’re not involved,” she said. “They come out and volunteer for our events, or they’ll help us with different campaigns. Just because these students aren’t running for positions doesn’t really have an effect on how much they’re actually participating.”
Missing the campaign
Perry faced two other candidates in the 2012 election, but was acclaimed in 2013.
“I really did enjoy the campaigning process,” said the psychology major, referring to his experience meeting and talking with students. “It was something that I was actually looking forward to. I had prepared for this year, but again, very shocked that nobody ran against me, and very humbled by the fact I’m going to be here for another year.”
Perry noted that three of the five executive members will be returning for 2013-14.
“It could be due to the fact that our membership has seen us out there engaging them, talking with them, and working hard for the students’ union.”
Murphy said the union has been making an effort to engage and inform students about elections through social media. The biggest challenge facing MUNSU, in Perry’s view, is reaching out to its 13,000 members. Such work is a joint effort for the elected board representatives.
The paid executive positions are full-time jobs for the students, and Simms said their work extends beyond the required 35 hours per week.
“There’s many evenings where we’re here until after dark or even on the weekends working,” she said, adding the executive members typically handle a reduced course load.
“It’s important that we are still students and we stay connected and continue with our education ourselves,” she said.
Murphy, who is enrolled in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, says her professors have been exceedingly accommodating. She is taking three courses this semester.
MUNSU will set up an elections committee over the summer to look at how other unions across the country engage their members and encourage them to run for student government. Perry said this recommendation came from the chief returning officer following the 2013 election.
Perry says those who think they might be interested in running for a position with MUNSU one day should consider how they can get involved now, be it through volunteering or attending meetings.
“And I think it’s important that our members here (not) be intimidated by the thought of being involved,” adds Murphy. “Everyone is really friendly and wants everyone to contribute, so being a little bit shy or nervous to get involved shouldn’t hold them back. They should step in with two feet. We’re always open to their ideas and feedback.”