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Online voting increases ASUNM voter turnout

Buoyed by a new, more convenient method of voting, more students submitted ballots for last week’s Associated Students of UNM elections than in any other fall election in the last 10 years.

According to the official count 1,746 undergraduate participated in selecting 10 senators, who will serve two semesters beginning in the spring, compared to 682 last year. That represents a 256 percent growth.

Elections Commission Executive Director Nadia Cabrera said she is hopeful for improved turnout in future elections, but thinks this semester’s could have gone better. Less than 10 percent of UNM undergraduates took part in this year’s elections, Cabrera said.

“We made a new record for fall (elections), but I’m not extremely excited about it because Fall 2013 was the record to beat, and they only had 22 candidates,” she said. “We only beat them by about 40 votes, and we had 28 candidates, so I would’ve liked to beat that number by a larger margin.”

For the first time, ASUNM elections took place via online balloting through myUNM. According to data provided by the Elections Commission, 965 voters took advantage of the new voting tool, 184 more than voted at physical polls (781) at the SUB, Zimmerman and elsewhere.

“I wasn’t surprised at all, that’s what I expected. It’s more convenient, it’s what people have been wanting for years now,” Cabrera said.

This isn’t the first time ASUNM has sought to utilize online voting, but the complexity of the task, as well as past opposition, barred the implementation until Cabrera and her staff were successful this year.

Cabrera said there are still more improvements that can be made to make online voting more efficient, including fixing issues that arose during Homecoming voting earlier in the semester.

As it turns out, the online voting tool – done through myUNM – wasn’t very mobile-friendly. However, UNM IT is rolling out an updated version of myUNM in the spring, and with it, mobile-friendliness.

Another issue is voter ineligibility. Cabrera said candidates would convince graduate peers, or friends at branch campuses, to vote in the elections.

Cabrera said anyone with a NetID can submit a ballot, but manpower is utilized to cross-reference the voters with undergraduate students to ensure ballots made by people other than main campus undergraduates are not counted.

Nonetheless, the number of voters is small when considering that ASUNM’s primary job is to represent 25,000+ undergraduates on campus, sometimes bringing their concerns to the Board of Regents or deciding whether or not to fund student groups.

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“I think it’s easy to think that ASUNM doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things…but you just have to bring it down and look at the little things that have been done,” Cabrera said, citing the blue emergency light poles on campus as the result of a past ASUNM senator’s initiative.

Michael Aguilar, a senior criminology major who voted in the election, said that he wasn’t aware of ASUNM’s importance until he joined a student organization and started to attend ASUNM meetings.

“I had to become more aware of what ASUNM really does,” Aguilar said. “I feel like if people understood what ASUNM can do…they might be more inclined to actually go vote.”

Aguilar said students don’t have much room to criticize University proceeding when they aren’t active in electing their student government leaders. He said the vast majority of students not participating in elections could be attributed to a regional, or even national, issue.

“I kind of think it might reflect Albuquerque as whole; the Albuquerque city election only had an eight percent turnout. So it might be something in our culture that we’re nationally apathetic to politics, or elections in general,” he said.

Despite not being a presidential election, this semester’s voter numbers surpassed that of last spring (1,528). With some minor tweaks and continued marketing for participation, the Elections Commission could surpass spring of 2014’s numbers, when over 2,300 voted.

“It’s going to be perfect for the spring, or as perfect as possible,” Cabrera said.

David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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