The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is rolling out a strategy to increase voter turnout at student elections this year.
Victoria Morton, RSU vice-president education, made the announcement Tuesday at an open meeting about student life improvement initiatives the RSU plans to pursue this year. Unpaid internships, tuition fees and academic policy reviews were discussed in addition to voter turnout.
Since 2008, voter turnout at RSU elections has remained stagnantly low. The move to an online voting platform, last year, increased voter turnout by 1,619 votes compared to the 2014 election. Despite the increase, out of more than 38,000 students attending the school last year, only 3,792 votes were cast in the RSU election.
“My goal is to find the best way to engage students creatively,” said Michael Friedman, a member of the RSU board of directors. Friedman is one of two students heading a committee tasked with bolstering student engagement in elections.
Friedman says that while the committee is still “under construction,” it plans on implementing its ideas in time for the RSU election in February.
Morton said that in the past, there’s been minimal effort in engaging students in RSU elections.
“I feel we have a responsibility to engage as many students as we can in our operations — that includes elections,” said Morton.
The committee’s strategies aren’t intended to simply increase engagement numbers. Friedman said the committee also wants to better educate voters.
“An informed vote is the best vote,” Friedman added.
One proposal includes creating a voter lounge in the lead up to the election where students can gather in a “stress-free environment” and chat with other students. There would be fact sheets provided in the room along with tea and coffee.
“We feel like it’s less engaging if you’re going, filling out a ballot and after five seconds you’re gone,” said Friedman.
The committee also plans on launching a “voter compass” where students can fill out a questionnaire that indicates which slate’s policies best align with the individual student’s beliefs.
“From that we can learn what turns students on to the idea of getting involved in politics [at] Ryerson,” said Friedman.
As an RSU initiative, the committee has no official budget. However, Friedman said, “[The cost is] going to be more in the hundreds than in the thousands.”
Friedman said that ensuring that these initiatives are unbiased is a priority. He said he would have to exclude himself because of his involvement with the current RSU team. That’s why he plans on reaching out to Mobilizing Actively Political Students (MAPS) — a group that ran non-partisan political campaigns on campus during last year’s federal election.
That election saw a dramatic increase in youth voter turnout. Friedman attributes that increase to different student groups working to engage young voters.
Friedman said it’s not too soon to start thinking about the election. “Try and mobilize yourself and other students to get out and vote because if votes aren’t coming in then it’s not the democracy it should be.”
Friedman said he hopes to bring the committee’s ideas to students sometime in October.