Tuesday, February 25

Aaron Julian: USAC needs to implement exit polls to decrease voter complacency

(Harishwer Balasubramani/Illustrations director)

Our leaders are only as good as the people they represent.

It is easy to complain about inaction from some of the Undergraduate Students Association Council members we’ve entrusted with hundreds of thousands of our student fee dollars. But they are only as incompetent as we are as voters.

Don’t forget, the last cycle of USAC elections brought record voter turnout – a whopping 40.3 percent. That’s an accurate estimate of the chances that the USAC council members fulfill some of their campaign promises.

Okay, I joke. But there is clearly an issue with student outreach. In order to understand which communities ail most from voter apathy, the USAC election board should implement exit polls for simple anonymous data collection. And they can begin this process by calling for a nonpartisan committee to begin discussions.

Voting for your USAC members is as easy as a few mouse clicks and two minutes of your time on MyUCLA, a page we all visit quite frequently. Yet less than half of the undergraduate student body is voting in an election that directly affects our entire college experiences. USAC controls a $4.5 million budget and each council member receives a $10,000 stipend for their work, yet student voters are largely absent in these elections.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to boosting turnout, but there’s a lot we can learn from the American political process – especially the use of data and demographics to campaign and rally support of issues. This “big data” model needs to be brought to the microcosm of UCLA. In other words, the election board needs to implement exit polls for its yearly elections.

Publishing hard facts would bring more people into student politics by clearly advertising the cost of complacency. Not only that, but USAC and the election board can use their resources to reach out to more disengaged groups. After all, student government needs to represent the entire diverse student body, not just a few select politically active groups.

Acquiring simple anonymous information such as school year, major, campus organization affiliations and if it is the student’s first time voting would provide an enormous depth of insight and only marginally lengthen the already brief voting process. Student voters can also gain perspective as to where their needs stand in relation to the voice they lend toward the gubernatorial fray. This information alone can spur marginalized groups into action, which could slowly lead to a political revolution to bring about action and progress at all levels of USAC.

The question now turns toward implementation. All USAC voting is done online, so unlike in American elections, pollsters are unable to sit outside of a station to take a tally of the voters.

This is where USAC needs to instigate a nonpartisan commission to discuss how to gather proper demographic data on the voting population of UCLA. This process should involve the election board and USAC slates, and must be open to student input. If this idea gets the green light, our very own computer science students could add these anonymized questions to the ballots in under an hour.

Then we’ll just need a consensus on how to properly sample these populations. The commission can help determine how to publish the anonymized results and use the data to accurately and effectively combat voter complacency.

Of course, the election board is currently implementing an admirable “get out the vote” campaign themselves. According to its chair Danielle Fitzgerald, a second-year economics student and chair of the election board, the campaign’s goal is to spread word of what the school council does.

“These 14 individuals are in charge of student fees, so we should know everything that is happening,” Fitzgerald said.

I lend my full support to their efforts, but there is still much more to do. The more information we can place in the hands of students and leaders, the more power and motivation we can provide to inspire action on their part.

We can’t fix a problem we know next to nothing about. Campus leaders cannot target pockets of greater voter apathy without knowing where they are. And the current outreach efforts may be positive, but they fall short of thorough. Exit polls will help fill in the gaps.

Lack of interest or motivation from voters has huge stakes. Voter complacency in last year’s presidential election has allowed for elected officials who support the repeal of the “stream protection rule,” mass deportations, abolishing of the Johnson amendment and discrimination against customers based solely on sexual orientation.

Our leaders are only as good as those who vote and as complacent as those who don’t even bother.

Although we have to wait two years to begin to right these wrongs on the national stage, at this point in time, we can all start working to making real change here on UCLA’s campus – one mouse click at a time.


Julian was an Opinion columnist.

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