Felicia Jansen wants to make a difference on campus. Sunday, she walked around a carnival hosted by ASMSU, MSU’s undergraduate student government, introducing herself to students and, unknown to her, ASMSU President Evan Martinak.
The biomedical laboratory science junior met Martinak for the first time while she campaigned as a candidate for ASMSU’s general assembly. ASMSU’s annual election week started at 8 a.m. yesterday and runs through April 15. All undergraduate students are eligible to vote for their respective general assembly representative, constitutional question changes and class councils.
“I’ve been part of leadership positions on campus in different organizations before, but ones that don’t have much scope over campus,” Jansen said. “I’m really excited to have an opportunity to really make a difference on campus.”
Jansen is running for one of about 35 positions as a representative position on ASMSU’s general assembly.
ASMSU occasionally flies under the radar because many students are unaware of the organization’s work, but election week serves as an opportunity for the group to step into the spotlight and try to improve on last year’s 8.7 percent student-voter turnout.
Election week hoopla
With some students unaware of ASMSU, the organization is rolling out the red carpet for election week with a handful of events meant to engage students across campus, including Battle of the Late Nights, a food event, and a Ne-Yo and Hot Chelle Rae concert.
ASMSU kicked off the week’s festivities with a carnival open to the student body and the East Lansing community Sunday. While the carnival boasted six rides and served as an opportunity for candidates like Jansen to interact with students, it also displayed how hard ASMSU might have to work to attract student attention. Not many students were in attendance Sunday afternoon — aside from fairground workers and candidates, about 20 people were observed on the fairgrounds at any time throughout the afternoon.
Outside of the events, ASMSU hired individuals to help boost voting numbers by running polling tables outside various popular cafeterias with laptops and iPads to instantly vote, ASMSU Event Planning Manager Rebecca Ruhlman said.
Martinak also added the student government worked with MSU IT Services to have university computers automatically launch the election site, studentelections.msu.edu, when logging in.
Psychology junior Demetri Clanton was aware of the upcoming elections, but thinks the addition of fun events can get students more excited about voting.
“Something fun to kind of catch the students’ eye,” Clanton said when asked what would help boost voting numbers. “I feel like students have short attention spans.”
Numbers don’t lie
Compared to Big Ten rivals, ASMSU fails to post high voter turnout numbers.
Patrick Courtney, vice president of administration for Indiana University Student Association, said their voter turnout has reached as high as 9,000 in recent years, about 27.7 percent of its population, where ASMSU had a turnout of 8.7 percent last year. In comparison, the University of Michigan normally is 11 percent, Ohio State University had about 17 percent in 2011-12, and Penn State University had about 19 percent.
Though ASMSU’s elections involve students voting on the general assembly representatives, the Indiana University Student Association votes for the executive office positions, which includes the president, vice president of administration, vice president of congress and treasurer.
Because ASMSU has a parliamentary system, MSU students are unable to vote directly for executive positions.
Clanton considers the low voter turnout to be from the different voting styles other Big Ten student governments have in place.
“I probably would because of that label, that title,” he said. “It kind of puts more emphasis on it.”
Though some might argue voting on more powerful positions would increase voter turnout, Martinak considers ASMSU’s voting process to be more beneficial to helping provide their best service from the bottom up.
“Forty-thousand people don’t know who I am, 35 know who I am quite well,” Martinak said. “We don’t have the capacity to inform all the voters about me and my policies and interests, and I don’t want it to turn into whoever spends the most money wins, which it is at some other places.”
Importance of voting
Psychology senior Stephanie Johnson doesn’t put much interest into the ASMSU elections.
“I’m a senior and this is the first time I’ve even heard about it,” Johnson said.
To combat this, the student government allocates funds for special events and promotions near election week. ASMSU allocated up to $25,500 from the special projects fund for the carnival yesterday and $250,000 for the concert Thursday.
Martinak considers undergraduate students voting in the elections important because it is their voices that need to be heard.
“It’s important because ASMSU is the way for students to let their voice be heard,” Martinak said. “We always say ‘Let your voice be heard, vote in the ASMSU elections.’ Your vote will determine the individual or group of individuals who will be representing your entire college at the university level, city, state and federal level at a sense, and these are the folks who will be creating the new services for you.”