Student Elections Lack Transparency

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The student president of the senate for the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) at IUPUI dismissed concerns about transparency and voter turnout in student elections in an interview Thursday, April 5.

USG organizers provide estimates of total votes cast and the winners for student government elections at IUPUI. However, the distribution of votes between candidates in each contest is not posted on social media, the campus website, or anywhere publicly available to students.

According to the USG President of the Senate, Brandon Rubacha, this was the result of a decision and not an oversight.

“If they requested it, candidates received the percentage, and then we were given a rough estimate of how many people voted,” Rubacha said. “Other than that, our adviser wanted to keep the actual numbers specifically closed off for just his viewing, or our former advisor Dean Spratt, who is above him, to look at if he also wanted to see those.”

Dean of Students Jason Spratt is listed as an adviser for the USG. In 2016, Spratt was a faculty member of the General Fee Advisory Board (GFAB) investigated by the Campus Citizen for misuse of public funds.

The other USG adviser Rubacha referred to was Brian Starkel, assistant director for Leadership Development and Civic Engagement at IUPUI.

“The full results were available upon request to our tickets, officers, and student senate,” Starkel said. “There was only one ticket that took us up on the request and received both percentages and vote totals.”

After the Campus Citizen corresponded with Starkel about the availability of the results, he disclosed the vote shares and totals by candidate for the 2018 USG presidential election via email.

According to Starkel, the winning student presidential ticket of Gina Pleshkan and Yasmine Kofahi received 56.54 percent of the vote or 622 votes, while the losing presidential ticket of Kara Teipen and  Savannah Kerstiens received 43.45 percent of the vote or 478 votes.

These specific numbers were only given after inquiry.

“Within the elections code, our election confirmation is outlined and how results are shared are not outlined,” Starkel said.

Event organizers at Indiana University Bloomington, Purdue University, Ball State University and Indiana University South Bend have all published full election results for their respective student government elections on social media. These election results included exact overall vote totals and the vote totals or vote shares in percentage points that each candidate received.

Ball State University’s The Daily News used this information to report on the competitive nature of the school’s student government elections from 2013 to 2017, in which the winning slate prevailed by no more than 5 percentage points in each contest.

Whether or not elections for positions at the Undergraduate State Government at IUPUI were similarly competitive in this time period is not known to students because the information is not publicly posted.

According to the electoral reform organization FairVote, the competitiveness of an election is “one of the most important factors” in determining voter turnout.

In the absence of publicly accessible election results with the margins of victory for the candidates in USG elections, students at IUPUI have no way to gauge if the elections were competitive or if their votes proved to be decisive.

According to the USG, 1,100 students participated in the student presidential election in March. IUPUI reported that there were approximately 21,610 undergraduate students in Fall 2017. Therefore, approximately 95 percent of undergraduate students failed to participate in the most recent USG election for which they were eligible.

“Do I think it’s a low turnout figure? No, and let me tell you why,” Rubacha said. “Our adviser Brian informed me that that was the highest turnout we’ve had in three or four years.”

“In 2018, we had 1,100 students participate in elections,” Starkel said. “It is a 50 percent increase in voting from 2017 and a 56 percent increase from 2016.”

Rubacha added, “Am I satisfied? Not necessarily. I don’t think anyone would be fully satisfied until every student on this campus were voting.”

Rubacha suggested that increasing the impact that the student government had on their lives was the way to get IUPUI interested in USG elections.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there is a student government here,” Rubacha said, “so before we can get more people to vote, I believe we have to get more people into the pool of being affected by USG. We have to get the branding, get the word about USG.”



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