Election week hit a rough start Monday as the first day of student body elections was marked by technical difficulties, understaffed operations and what some view as low voter turnout.
From the get-go, students who logged onto sg.usf.edu/vote to cast their ballot online were directed to a Student Government (SG) page with a banner reading “Spring 2014 Election Documents.”
Among many links — such as to last year’s election results and election rules commission opinions — was a button linking to this year’s eBallot.
The button, however, was outdated, and included the voting dates for last year’s election. The link also did not clarify what the “eBallot” was for, nor did it distinguish itself aesthetically from the other two buttons in the column.
IT has been contacted about this issue, according to Dustin Adcock, SG associate supervisor of elections, though he said SG has yet to receive a quote about when the issue will be fixed.
“The eBallot is working fine,” he said. “It may not be as recognizable as in the past, but, once you hit the button there should be no issues.”
Yet this was not the only hindrance to students wanting to vote online.
Students enrolled in the College of The Arts will not be able to vote online or at any of the polling stations across campus. Instead, they will have to visit the SG offices on the fourth floor of the Marshall Student Center.
This is due to a technical glitch, Adcock said, that doesn’t allow students or polling volunteers to pull up the ballot for art students. Only those in the SG offices are allowed access to the administrative part of the website that can bypass the problem.
The election process hit another speed bump with understaffed polling stations.
Though SG wanted a full staff, Adcock said there weren’t enough volunteers to keep five stations open all day, adding they were “ironing out” the issue.
Adcock further added the minimum number of active two polling stations, as required by SG regulations, was met.
SG had advertised five polling stations active throughout election weeks, yet only the required number of two were manned Monday from start to close. A SG tent and promotional chocolates were left unattended on the table of the station outside Juniper-Poplar Hall.
Chocolate coins and a foam-bull key chain are being given out to students this year, instead of the typical pizza and T-shirts from past elections.
“Pizza was a good idea in the past, but I think this year we were able to reach more students with these marketing items,” Adcock said. “When they take them home, they will have the link (to online voting) with them.”
T-shirts with the phrase “I voted” were planned for this week, but there was a difficulty getting the shirts on time. The T-shirt printer, Adcock said, is expected to fulfill the order before voting ends Thursday.
Throughout the first-day’s turbulence, SG Supervisor of Elections John Quiroz was on vacation. Quiroz, who is returning today, did not respond to The Oracle’s request for a phone interview.
Adcock, who was left in charge, said voting went smoothly for those able to vote at the polling stations.
“It’s been pretty consistent and steady today,” he said. “It’s about on par for what we’ve expected for voter turnout.”
In previous years, voter turnout has been reported at around 10 percent of the roughly 40,000 students who attend the Tampa campus. In previous elections, 4,928 students voted in 2014 and 4,441 in 2013 for the student body president race.
The student body presidential candidates, Andy Rodriguez and Sammy Hamed, said they think low-voter turnout is due a general sense of apathy among students.
“The biggest question I get from students about SG is ‘What do you do?’” Hamed said.
Rodriguez said he spent time talking to students in hopes of encouraging them to get involved.
“Every student is busy, every student has their own problems that they are dealing with,” Rodriguez said. “Its talking to students who probably would never have voted or cared about voting in the first place.”
Both presidential candidates and their supporters were seen throughout Monday, shaking hands and handing out fliers. Hamed campaigned with a puppy by the Campus Recreation Center.
Senatorial candidates, often in suits, were also seen around campus pitching their platforms. Girgis Fahmy, a senatorial candidate for the College of Arts and Sciences, campaigned outside Cooper Hall.
Fahmy said he wants USF’s election season to be more like what his friends experience at University of Florida or Florida State University, where there are political parties and the elections are more spirited.
“This year I’ve seen more candidates campaigning and getting involved,” he said. “There’s a competitive nature to it where everyone is out campaigning or chalking — it’s reinforcing student involvement.”
Students around campus had a mixed drive to get involved with elections. Tiffiany Portacio, a sophomore majoring in international studies, said she plans on voting this year to participate in the student community.
“I feel like we need to engage into Student Government, into the community,” she said. “I do feel like I need to know more … just know where our tuition and our money and effort is allocated towards.”
Klenton Perry, a senior majoring in finance and economics, also supported student involvement in their government.
“Student organizations are funded by them, a lot of activities are put on by them,” he said. “They help kind of bring that together, and they are a very, very important part of USF.”
Other students were less excited about elections, such as Bryan Hindert, a senior majoring in environmental biology.
“I’m a commuter student. I just come in, go do my classes, studying late, so I really don’t know much about what goes on in campus,” he said. “To be honest, although obviously it affects me, I really haven’t given it much thought.”
Diandra Latibeaudiere, a graduate student majoring in public health, said SG’s efforts to get students has been mostly in vain.
“I think there’s some disconnect because students don’t get involved enough,” she said. “Students don’t know enough about Student Government, students don’t know anything about their rights and what’s going on.”
To get students to come out in higher numbers, Adcock said SG is considering ways to incentivize voting before it ends Thursday, such as promoting a chance to win a $25 restaurant gift card.
“We’ve had all of our employees encourage students and let them know what representation can do for the student body,” he said. “We’re hoping that with more student outreach, that by the end of the voting period, there will be a high voter turnout.”
– Additional reporting by Alex Rosenthal