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SGA Research Committee

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Solving a Nation-Wide Question

Few students vote in Student Government Association elections on campuses across the country, and it's common for the most qualified students to resign after one term — UVM is no exception. This compounds with the instability of the college environment, where the electorate turns over every 4 years.

How can we increase participation in student governance? With no shortage of student activism, the University of Vermont can rise to answer this question.

The SGA and UVM Votes are partnering to form a research committee which will compare efficacy of student governments around the country, culminating in a brief of findings and recommendations for the SGA.

Why Bother?

Low voter participation in any system creates a "legitimacy deficit," where the elected body isn’t actually representative of whom it claims to represent. Only 17.3% of catamounts voted in last year’s SGA election (see Engagement 3.3). By increasing the student participation in SGA elections, we increase the organization’s legitimacy as being representative of UVM students. This leads to two important outcomes:

  1. Declarations are taken more seriously. For example, giving a proposal to the administration would signal “the students of UVM want this,” rather than the current model that signals “the SGA wants this”. The more students the SGA directly speaks for, the more powerful its declarations are.
  2. Elections would become more competitive, promoting the likelihood the most qualified candidates will make it on to the ballot. This comes with a big asterisk around how privilege takes shape and effects who is able to devote the most time to campaigning,  but solving for that problem is not mutually exclusive to the work of this committee. The first step is to get more students voting.

The Committee’s Work

The committee is specifically geared toward comparing how SGAs at other institutions stack up against each other — this approach of "checking each other's homework" lets us use other universities as laboratories of democracy.

Our two questions:

  1. How to increase voter participation in SGA elections and campaigns?

    1. Year over year, are senators coming from certain colleges? Against metrics like college, gender, and ethnicity, how representative is our student government?
  2. How to retain incumbent senators?

    1. Although senator turnover could be explained by high achieving students having to prioritize their activities as they near graduation, it begs the question: why isn't the SGA viewed as a valuable opportunity for continued growth and resume building?

Want to get involved? Email!