Less than 13 percent of eligible voting students cast their ballots in the student body elections this spring.
Last year, more than 20 percent of the eligible students voted online, totaling 2,860 votes.
This year, 1,112 less students voted, a tally numbering just over 1,700 votes.
Student leaders said they are “baffled” at the voter apathy and have been left wondering what caused the large discrepancy between this year’s numbers and years past.
“It was impressive,” Student Body Vice President Hilary Haugeberg said of this year’s campaign scene. “So I was baffled. Honestly, when we heard the total numbers, we were astonished.”
Presidential hopeful Robert Kringler was upset with the totals, too.
“We’re really disappointed with the voter turnout – 1,700 people is, honestly, pretty sad,” he said.
While an exact answer remains elusive, Sarah Russell, student body president, said she has heard a few explanations of what happened during this year’s vote.
“One possibility that’s been thrown out by I think one of the candidates … is that this year’s tickets were both very heavily involved in the same organizations,” Russell said, “so the overlap from this year was more than last year’s.”
Overlap was not an issue in last year’s diverse race.
Russell and Haugeberg ran against Billy Ogdahl and Jodi Boe in a tightly contested vote last spring.
Russell and Haugeberg were the first all-female ticket to win the presidential ticket at North Dakota State. The duo hale from the Colleges of Engineering and Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, while Ogdahl and Boe are both enrolled in the College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources.
And these college allegiances may be correlated to vote totals.
Last year, over 40 percent of students in the College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources voted. This year, 15 percent voted in the college, a drop of 35 percentage points.
Aaron Weber, a vice president candidate, majors in agriculture communication, which is technically listed as an AHSS program.
Both Kringler and Weber, along with President-Elect Eric McDaniel and Vice President-Elect Josh Fergel, are involved in student government and Greek life, yet none of the candidates share a major.
Only one college – the College of Science and Math – saw a higher voter turnout this year, rising by two percentage points this year versus last. None of the candidates major in that college.
“That’s a theory, again, I have no idea,” Russell said.
Even though a 7 percent drop occurred in voter turnout between this year from last, Russell and Haugeberg were adamant in declaring no one was to blame.
“There were no changes; if anything we added more publicity for it,” Russell said of the election season, noting student media’s coverage this year was extensive and the Memorial Union had more signs “than it ever has.”
The tickets reached out to more organizations than ever before, too, they said.
“The candidates did a great job of reaching out. We’re not blaming anyone; it’s no one’s fault,” Haugeberg said.
One shakeup to this year’s campaign season was the cancellation of a public debate.
The NDSU Student Court cancelled the second electoral debate, but Russell noted this nonevent probably didn’t sway opinions.
“We only had one debate last year, and we had 1,000 more votes,” she said.
The debate system in place needs to be revamped, Chief Justice Mathew Warsocki said.
“We feel like the current system we have set up is not efficient in getting students to know about the debates,” he said. “We don’t think that the current system works well, and neither did the either of the candidates.”
Student leaders are pondering an online format for future debates.
“If we can’t get students to vote – to take 10 minutes out of there day to vote from wherever they are from at home or on campus – it’s going to be difficult to get them to take a half hour of their day at a particular place on campus,” Russell said.
This year’s vote is hopefully “a fluke,” Haugeberg said, but Russell noted student government has heard apathetic opinions toward the election.
“Some of the general things we hear are, ‘Oh, I didn’t really care,’” Russell said. “That’s a different excuse.”
Haugeberg said convincing the masses elections matter is a different battle.
“Student voices do matter, and it is important for them to do vote on any topic on campus – not just the student body elections,” she said.
Russell suggested perhaps the results are telling of a bigger trend.
“I hope it’s not a trend that’s more far-reaching than our organization on campus because we saw relatively low turnout for primary elections this summer and the others in November,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s an NDSU issue, a student government issue – if it’s a student government issue we’ll continue to work on it – or if it’s a little more global than that.”
Through all the uncertainty, Russell said something certainly needs to be done.
“In the future, we’ll get creative because we want students to know that they can vote and that they can make a difference,” she said.
Change is something Kringler said needs to occur.
“I urge our future student government leaders to find more people to vote,” he said.