24,541 Lakers… Yet only 8% vote

Junior Jared Wolf reads over the election packets, which can be found on the Student Senate website

Eric Coulter

Junior Jared Wolf reads over the election packets, which can be found on the Student Senate website

Despite being plagued by small numbers of applicants and low voter turnout, members of Student Senate at Grand Valley State University urge that participating in Senate elections is a critical part of GVSU students’ civic responsibilities.

Ali Zimmer, executive vice president of the Student Senate, said typically only 8 to 9 percent of the student population – about 2,000 of the 24,541 students currently enrolled at GVSU – participates in Senate elections .

If those numbers represented presidential elections nationwide, only enough people to fill the state of Texas would be active voters, just 25 million out of 308 million Americans.

“In the past, not everyone is fully aware of what Senate does, so then it’s harder for someone to say, ‘I’m going to vote for something, but I’m not entirely sure how it effects me,’” Zimmer said.

Zimmer said she thinks of Student Senate as the backbone of student life – putting on events like the Last Lecture, the University Leadership Roundtable and, most notably, the annual President’s Ball.

“It’s an organization that feeds into other organizations,” Zimmer said. “It’s responsible for the finances that fund all of the other student organizations, it’s important for political means on campus and tries to get students aware of what’s going on in and around the local Grand Rapids area as well as the nation.”

This year, she said Student Senate is utilizing other promotional techniques in hopes of boosting voter and candidate participation. With 44 open positions in the Student Senate cabinet, Senate only sees between 40 and 50 applicants. Six seats are reserved for freshmen, transfer students and graduate students.

Senate President Jarrett Martus said it is too early to determine how many students will run for the 2011-2012 academic year. Applications are due at 5 p.m. today in the Student Senate Office, Room 0008 in Kirkhof Center.

“A lot of people wait until the last day to turn their applications in,” Martus said. “It’s too early to tell, but I’ve seen a lot of people going around with their election packets, collecting the required signatures.”

Election packets are available online at www.gvsu.edu/studentsenate.

Students interested in running for Senate must

urn in a completed application, which includes a 1,000-word platform statement and 75 student signatures endorsing their candidacy. To be eligible, potential senators must be enrolled at GVSU and maintain a 2.5 GPA.

The lack of participation can stunt student awareness as a larger operating body, Zimmer said.

“I think it’s important for students to run because it’s just a way to voice your concerns more directly,” she said. “If you have a concern or you represent the body of students that has a concern, it’s an easier way to express that concern. So I think running, if you are a student leader, is really important.”

Martus said a drive to improve the university is key for anyone interested in running.

“My interest was in the university and trying to improve the university and assist the student body,” he said. “…Anybody running, they need to have an interest for a greater good at Grand Valley.”

President Thomas J. Haas also stressed the importance of civic involvement in his campus-wide email addressed to students last week.

“The Grand Valley Student Senate is the voice of all students in many outlets on and off campus,” he wrote. “We are always looking for new leaders and voices for the students of Grand Valley and hope you will look into running. It is an important part of our Civic Responsibilities to be involved and let our voices be heard.”

Voting in Student Senate elections is nothing short of civic responsibility, Zimmer agreed.

“When you don’t vote in the presidential elections and you are experiencing some kind of conflict about what’s happening – you can’t really feel responsible for that because you didn’t participate,” Zimmer said. “I think all students should feel the responsibility behind it, and that way they can become more engaged in the decision making process.”

Martus stressed the importance for students to not only vote, but also run for election.

“I would just encourage anyone who’s interested to go for it,” he said.

He added students who miss the deadline for application materials can still run a write-in campaign.

Students can vote online at www.gvsu.edu/studentsenate under the election tab. Online voting begins on March 27 and ends April 2.

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