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Spring 2021 SGA elections see low voter turnout- Nelson, Paredes to serve as President and Vice President; Stich, Tlhwaele, Yassin win respective races

Camille Stich ’22, Mbuyisile Tlhwaele ’23 and Mohamed Yassin ’23 won each of their contested elections after students cast their ballots for executives of St. Olaf’s Student Government Association (SGA) via Google form on Friday, April 16.

Stich will serve as Volunteer Network (VN) Coordinator after defeating challenger Missy Daniels ’22, Tlhwaele as Diversity Initiatives Support Committee (DISC) Coordinator after defeating challenger Linden Hoskins ’22 and Yassin as Political Awareness Committee (PAC) Coordinator after defeating challenger Matt Mackenzie ’22.

Andy Nelson ’23 and Michael Paredes ’22 ran uncontested and will serve as SGA’s President and Vice President, respectively, after challengers Hannah Niederman ’23 and Maddy Bayzaee ’23 dropped out of the race during a candidate forum on Monday, April 12.

Lily Braafladt ’22 will serve as the Music Entertainment Committee (MEC) Coordinator, Sandra Chimutsipa ’23 as the After Dark Committee (ADC) Coordinator, Zoe Golden ’22 as the Student Activities Committee (SAC) Coordinator, Jessica Hollister ’22 as the Student Organizations Committee (SOC) Coordinator and Fenton Krupp ’24 as the Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC) Coordinator, all after running in uncontested elections.

Candidates engaged in a series of events during their campaigns leading up to Friday’s voting. The main event, a 45-minute long town hall held in the Buntrock Crossroads during the evening of Monday, April 12, followed outdoor tabling on Saturday, April 10 and a debate between President and Vice President candidate pairs on Sunday, April 11. The candidates also held drop-in Zoom calls with students over the course of April 13-15, although these calls, divided between dorms, received little student engagement.

In a regular year, candidates would hold more in-person events, such as extra tabling and door-knocking throughout dorms around campus. Safety protocols instituted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic altered these usual plans, although candidates still had the chance to engage more personally with students compared to last spring’s virtual campaigning.   

A departure from usual campaign procedures, combined with general student feelings of burnout, may have contributed to a low voter participation rate. 711 students voted via Google form on April 16, representing approximately 24% of the student body. While St. Olaf has seen a recent trend of low voter participation as compared to student government elections in the late 2000s and 2010s, less than a quarter of the student body casting ballots for SGA executives is a low turnout, even in light of this recent trend.

28% of students voted last year, even while campus shifted completely online and candidates had to restructure their campaigning. While 24% is low compared to last year, it is even lower when compared to the average 42% participation rate throughout the early-to-middle 2010s.

SGA Election Commissioner Lila Graham ’22, who helped organize the logistical structure of candidates’ campaigning activities, expected a low turnout primarily due to an uncontested race for President and Vice President.

“The 24% number is completely unsurprising,” Graham said. “Last year, while we were online and things had to get shifted, we also had three different pairs running for President and Vice President, and this time it was uncontested. An uncontested President and Vice President race absolutely depresses turnout very significantly.”

While an uncontested race for President and Vice President may have driven down turnout this year, Graham thinks other issues may explain the general recent trend of decreased participation. 

“Low turnout has been a problem for multiple years; there is this kind of fundamental disengagement with SGA that no number of posters or town halls will really fix in and of itself,” Graham said. “So part of it is that SGA needs to be seen as a valid route for causing change on this campus and then I think more students will get involved.”

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