INFOGRAPHIC BY PAUL EICHENHOLTZ/Golden Gate Xpress
A mere four percent of the student body voted in last month’s student government elections that selected Preyansh Kotecha as the next student body president, and according to members of the board of Associated Students (AS), Student Affairs and Enrollment Management (SAEM) is to blame.
In past years a campus-wide email was sent to student constituents ahead of the elections with information about how and when to vote. But SAEM and AS each said the other is at fault for the limited communication with students that resulted in such a low voter turnout that Kotecha won with just 563 votes out of a possible 29,216 eligible voters.
“If Associated Students did want to send an email, we would have to go through SAEM because we do not have access to the emails of over 29,000 students — they do,” AS elections commissioner Nia Hall said.
Since 2014 SAEM has limited AS to one monthly email newsletter to engage in direct communication with the student body, according to vice president of SAEM Luoluo Hong.
Like Hall, AS vice president of external affairs Garrick Wilhelm said SAEM controls communication from AS, but he also said AS failed to do their part in getting emails out to students.
“Even though every student is a member of Associated Students, Student Affairs and of Associated Students, Student Affairs and Enrollment
Management has restricted Associated Students’ ability to send email[s] to their membership,” Wilhelm said in an email to Xpress. “Campus-wide emails were sent on 8/29/18, 10/26/18 & 2/8/19 about vacant positions on the board but none [were] sent about the elections.”
But according to Hong, these email newsletters are in addition to the monthly quota allotted to AS by administration.
Hong said SAEM sends as many emails as is warranted regarding board appointments and elections and recognizes that student governance relies on student representation in order to be effective.
“In other words, even if SAEM had sent out an April newsletter for AS, this would not have precluded also sending out one or more email messages regarding elections if such had been requested by AS,” Hong said in an email to Xpress.
“All of us are concerned about the low student voter turnout, and the staff in Student Affairs and Enrollment Management would be very willing to work with AS —both the board members and the staff — to help improve voter turnout, if they would like our assistance,” Hong
According to the previous version of the AS election code, AS is required to notify students of when and how to vote, but Wilhelm said the requirement was removed from this year’s code, which went into effect February 6.
“Technically, this requirement was met by posting the election information on our [AS] website,” Wilhelm said. “But [only posting it on the website] effectively left the vast majority of the student body in the dark.”
Hong said in previous years AS contacted SAEM to request a special campus-wide notification about the elections via email to encourage students to apply for candidacy and to inform them how to vote.
She said in spring 2015 and 2016 it was AS executive director Aimee Barnes who sent the request to SAEM, and in spring 2017 and 2018,
AS elections commissioners Yena Kim and Jhornal Islam, respectively, fulfilled the duty.
Since AS is an independent 501(c)(3) auxiliary organization, Hong said that if SAEM took the initiative in managing an election for AS, it would constitute inappropriate interference.
“AS Elections Code was written by AS, not by SAEM,” she said. “It represents the duties and obligations of the Associated Students — not of SAEM.”
But Hall, the current elections commissioner, said her job does not include communicating with SAEM to send out the email.
“Different AS offices are in charge of sending different emails when necessary,” Hall said. “If an email was required to be sent out about polling places, it would more than likely be sent to SAEM by the AS executive office.”
The AS executive office is staffed by AS president Nathan Jones and the interim executive director Horace Montgomery.
But Wilhelm said Jones removed his influence from the election process to avoid showing favoritism.
“In the process, he failed to communicate with the student body about elections.” Wilhelm said Jones did not respond to requests for comment from Xpress about his role in communicating with SAEM to inform students of the election.
“SAEM received no requests from AS in Spring 2019 to assist with communications to the student body regarding the AS election ballot, voting in AS elections, and/or polling locations,” Hong said.