With 2016 being a U.S. election year, talk of the presidential race is dominating the national landscape. College campuses especially tend to be a popular hotbed of discussion.
Groups lobbying for particular candidates are formed, students volunteer to work in local campaign offices and they register to vote, many for the first time. Forums may be held, debate watch parties scheduled, respectful arguments hashed out late at night while taking a break from homework.
The University of New Mexico’s undergraduate students should take care to have the same enthusiasm for another election process they can participate in not just every four years, but every semester: senatorial and presidential elections for the Associated Students of UNM.
ASUNM Election Day, instead of being a date most students look forward to in the hopes of supporting the candidates they most trust to represent them, has instead morphed into a time when friends text each other warnings to avoid Smith Plaza.
It’s almost as if, when walking through the area, students would rather pick up the pace to get to class faster than have a fellow student chat with them about the most pressing issues facing the them. But surely not...right?
Last fall, about 1,750 undergrads voted in the ASUNM elections, which consisted solely of senatorial candidates. That’s a jarring number when considering the size of the campus, where a little over 20,000 undergraduates were enrolled in the fall of 2014.
It’s even more stunning when you consider that was the biggest turnout for any fall election over the last ten years.
The previous fall? 682 students made it to the polls.
To be clear, spring elections tend to yield a higher voter turnout as it includes the presidential race, but the results aren’t much different. Last spring a little over 1,500 students voted, a sharp decline from 2,300 in 2014. At that time, the Daily Lobo quoted then-ASUNM Elections Commission Director Malika Ladha as saying, “I think it definitely means that more students are trying to get involved with ASUNM, and they are trying to get a voice in who represents them.”
What happened to that voice? Why has it become a whisper? 2,300 students certainly is still a relatively low number on a campus of 20,000+, but it’s nonetheless a far cry from the numbers of subsequent semesters.
It’s hard to believe only 2,300 undergrads on campus are actively discussing the national presidential race – or at the very least staying up to date with it – so why aren’t they doing the same for ASUNM?
The undergraduate student governing body that is ASUNM, by the way, makes recommendations to the Board of Regents – essentially UNM’s top decision makers – on a myriad of issues, including, but not limited to: tuition, student fees, safety issues, transparency concerns, the list goes on.
ASUNM senators are put in charge of how to disperse hundreds of thousands of dollars every spring to student organizations. ASUNM senators deliberate and suggest to Regents whether or not the student body will generally support the next big decision regarding tuition. ASUNM senators, more and more, discuss with state legislators possible ways to amend the NM Lottery Scholarship that so many rely on.
A slight note on that topic: the state’s Liquor Excise Tax, which provides a sizeable chunk of the scholarship, expires next year, meaning the amount of tuition the scholarship covers could plummet from its current levels (about 90 percent) down to about 60.
Naturally, that will be an overarching issue for ASUNM’s president and senators next year. Wouldn’t students want the best possible leaders to help protect the only way some of them can continue attending UNM?
Further, up until recently the only way to vote was to make it to physical polling stations on campus, but thanks to an initiative by current Elections Commission Director Nadia Cabrera, students can now vote on MyUNM during the same hours that polls at the SUB, Zimmerman Library and elsewhere are opened.
For all the talk that ASUNM has given in recent semesters about reaching out to more students, talking to more students, making sure that more students just know what the heck ASUNM even stands for, it’s up to those same students to take up some of the burden. Not just this election cycle, but every semester.
Just as it is a citizen’s duty to participate in national elections, it’s the prerogative of University of New Mexico undergraduates to vote in ASUNM elections. Help the University help you. Revive the voice of a concerned, enthusiastic, active student body, and make it a roar.
Get informed. Ask candidates questions. And go vote.