The Associated Students of UNM’s Elections Commission is working on a new survey to gauge students’ opinions and level of participation in Senate elections, which have tended to be low in recent semesters.
The survey, due to be released later this month, will ask students about their familiarity with ASUNM and its general functions, as well as whether or not they plan on voting in the next election, slated for mid-November.
Sab Moore, assistant director of the Elections Commission, said the main goal of the survey is to determine what motivates students to participate, or not participate, in elections.
With this information, Moore and Elections Commission Executive Director Keith Blumenfeld plan to make changes to better appeal to a wider range of undergraduate students.
“We want to learn the opinion of the student body on ASUNM Senate elections so we can know how to improve in the future,” Moore said. “I think the most important part of filling out the survey is the honesty. That way we can best serve the students in the future.”
According to statistics recorded by the Elections Commission, 1,746 students voted in the fall 2015 Senate elections. UNM’s official enrollment report at the time shows an undergraduate population of 19,886 for the Albuquerque campus.
That means only about 9 percent of undergraduate students participated in that semester’s election. It was, however, an improvement over the previous previous fall election, which saw only 682 students make it to the polls, the lowest recorded turnout since the fall of 2007.
The reasons for these fluctuations in turnout are difficult to measure and often dependent on the particular election cycle, Moore said.
“Generally, elections where there are a lot more candidates (will yield) a lot more votes. Versus if there were only 15 candidates, it’s going to be a lower number of voting,” she said.
This is not the first initiative undertaken by the Elections Commission to work on improving voter turnout. Last year’s elections were the first to utilize online voting through myUNM.
This new platform accounted for over half of fall 2015’s total votes, with 965 being cast online. The next highest polling location was at the SUB, which garnered 212 votes, a minuscule number by comparison.
“It definitely has been more convenient for the students. Which is something that we’re very proud of, and it has just made voting more easily accessible”, Moore said.
"An informed and engaged student body is what makes our work have a robust impact across campus,” he said.
Lack of general knowledge about ASUNM among the student body has been a hot topic within the governing body in recent years. It has been consistently addressed in candidate forums leading up to elections, and there have been an increased number of events organized by senators and leadership to reach out to students directly.
“Let’s say a student doesn’t know the importance ASUNM has on them directly. We can get that input,” Moore said. “And if they have no idea at all, then there will be an option for that in the survey. We can then find a way to advertise about Senate seats and their role on our campus. We’re ultimately looking for the ‘why’ when it comes to voting.”
The survey will include an additional portion for open feedback from any students wanting to share their opinions or suggestions about ASUNM. This information will be shared with other branches of the governing body to make improvements based on student input, Moore said.
“Maybe there is some information that’s being lacked. What ASUNM does might not necessarily be portrayed accurately on all areas of campus. Maybe we can do something educational to try and change that for elections to come,” she said.
Moore and Blumenfeld are currently working on incentives to encourage students to participate in the survey.
For example, anyone who fills it out will be entered to win Albuquerque Isotopes baseball tickets, as well as several other gift cards from businesses around the city.
Ideally, Moore said she hopes to see more people take the survey than those who are currently voting in elections.
“We’re really passionate about trying to reach out to students who are a little more removed from campus extracurriculars,” Moore said, “so we can find out how to show them that their vote also matters to us.”
Gabriela Garcia-Huff is a freelance news reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thegreen_gablin.