The 2020 ASUC elections had a marginally higher voter turnout than the 2019 elections, despite the coronavirus pandemic pushing the elections to take place entirely online.
Although graduate student voter turnout increased by 487%, undergraduate voter turnout dropped by 17% compared to last year, and there were high abstention rates for officer elections. Candidates attribute these numbers to more creative campaign strategies and effects from the coronavirus pandemic.
“This was the first time in ASUC history where the elections were all online,” said ASUC Elections Council chair James Weichert. “I think the takeaway is that we’re able to adapt. Ensuring that every student’s voice is heard, then I think it’s possible to hold a wide-scale election, despite the circumstances.”
According to Graduate Assembly President Adam Orford, voter turnout among graduate students is typically low because they often do not see how the ASUC elections affect them.
This year, the assembly had an informational email campaign for graduate students to explain the importance of the Class Pass and Graduate Student Government Independence referendums.
According to current ASUC Diversity Affairs Commission chair and ASUC President-elect Victoria Vera, she was successful because she leveraged social media during her campaign.
“Old strategies of campaigning aren’t sustainable anymore,” Vera said. “You have to meet voters where they’re at. You can’t rely on ‘Sprouling’ anymore.”
Vera said she used TikTok while her campaign manager used an Animal Crossing screenshot to promote her campaign.
ASUC senator and newly elected ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President Nicole Anyanwu, on the other hand, refused to campaign this election season because of the pandemic.
“I thought having the whole election season was unethical,” Anyanwu said. “It wouldn’t be fair to intrude on people to ask them to vote for me.”
Vera felt she had to walk a line between asking for support from voters while also supporting her constituents during her campaign. Some students were moving back home from Berkeley and may have had more pressing things to worry about than the ASUC election, Vera added.
Transfer Student Representative-elect Valerie Johnson said she is empathetic to students who chose not to vote in the elections.
Twenty-six elected positions and two propositions — the first on Class Pass renewal and the second a poll on Graduate Assembly independence from the ASUC — were on the ballot. Both propositions passed by a landslide and with low abstention rates.
Many officer races, however, saw high abstention rates. The election for ASUC Executive Vice President had a 61% abstention rate.
ASUC Senator Melvin Tangonan, who was elected as executive vice president, said the reason so many students chose to abstain in officer elections could be because candidates could not campaign on campus. Such campaigns allow candidates to meet their constituents and let them get to know who they’re voting for, Tangonan said.
“We needed to acknowledge that the ASUC election shouldn’t be the priority,” Tangonan said. “Despite this, it was important to vote for next year’s leaders because they have to deal with the aftermath of this pandemic.”