Once again, it was time for UOA’s annual tradition of barely being able to scrape enough votes together to hold the AUSA election. This year was the third year the election was moved from the cold windy quad and held online, making it nice and easily avoidable.
While I myself am a product of last year’s clusterfuck of election drama, this year was far more tame. While elections should run smoothly, and it is best for the candidates that nothing of note happens, what has resulted is another year of student elections going by largely unnoticed or met with apathy.
This year saw a drop of around 200 votes in total per position compared to last year. The 2018/2019 elections themselves had a disappointing turnout from the year prior, with a drop of 500 votes in total per candidate. Within the last three election cycles, the number of voters has halved. By-elections by nature have usually seen even fewer voters than main elections, with the most recent by-election of the Queer Rights Officer only seeing 129 votes in total.
AUSA President George Barton suggested that part of the reason for this year’s decline was a technical issue with the voting portal, “I had people contacting me, telling me that they had tried 10 times to vote. If it is difficult to vote people just won’t bother.” While this may be accurate for this years election, it doesn’t take into account the broader trend of declining interest from students.
A possible reason for this is the lack of contested roles. In 2017/2018 elections, six of the AUSA positions were contested, with three positions having more than two people running. In 2018/2019 elections, five of the positions were contested, with two of the positions having more two people running. This year only three elections were contested, with only one position having more than two people running. This is in addition to multiple positions which had no candidates, which included the role of Treasurer of the executive.
Barton acknowledged that with fewer candidates, the less campaigning students would see, which could affect overall engagement, “we have a polycentric campus, so for a lot of students, they don’t really need to go outside their faculty facilities. When you have few campaigners that mostly put flyers up in the quad and Kate Edgar [Information Commons], you are not going to appeal to the diverse student culture we have, so there is an issue there.”
AUSA consistently faces an uphill battle to get engagement from the student community. While their O-Week events are relatively popular, far fewer students directly take up the services that they provide. Barton contends that this is not necessarily a bad thing, as they want as few students as possible to have to get to the point where they need an advocate. While the AUSA does do more than financial support and advocacy, namely lobby on behalf of student interests, yet because most students don’t see this in their daily uni lives, most forget about it.
“Once people actually see the kind of work we do, they want to get involved. Obviously we haven’t been as successful as we would like to in putting the message out to the student community, but we are hoping to change that,” says Barton
Caring about AUSA can be hard when you don’t feel you have much to do with it, but maybe you have a bit more to do with it than you think. Food and textbook grants, womenspace, queerspace, UBIQ, O-Week, even Craccum is provided by AUSA. For us, AUSA controls whether or not we actually get to pay our staff to produce content each week. A change in executive can mean changes to a wide range of things at university and this affects you. Just think of a Craccum without funding… much less the same truthfully but with a lot more product placement, and we at Craccum refuse to sell you fit tea (unless we get really desperate… stay tuned).