The state of elections has improved at the University of Central Florida but the Election Commission acknowledges that there is work yet to be done.
As of Wednesday, Senate elections are over. The senators have been announced and everyone has gone back to their daily lives. Behind the scenes, however, this election cycle was no walk in the park. While the students voted, the Election Commission was laboring in an effort to maximize student participation and ensure fairness in the elections.
According to the Student Government Association, 5,049 students voted in the Senate elections. Compared to Senate elections in 2015, student participation increased almost 29 percent. Rachel Bettencourt, supervisor of elections, said that changes made to the preparation for elections this year played a large role in that growth.
“For the first time, we actually utilized social media,” Bettencourt said. “Which sounds almost ridiculous.”
The Election Commission made more generic T-shirts that students will want to continue wearing after election week, provided food at the candidate forums, and created and shared a Facebook event to help inform students.
Chris Mari, assistant supervisor of elections, believes that the candidates also contributed to the rising student voting figures.
“The candidates marketed themselves really well,” said Mari. “They worked really hard to get themselves elected.”
This election cycle was the first since either of the supervisors have been working with the Election Commission with no reports of election violations. The presidential election last spring was rife in violations. Mari said he was surprised with how clean this election cycle was conducted, especially considering the competition for available seats. He hopes that the Election Commission can build upon this success in the upcoming presidential election.
The results were not without hardship for the Election Commission. Bettencourt and Mari were appointed and confirmed to their positions later than usual and this led to a frantic rush to get everything ready for Senate elections. Appointments were supposed to be made and confirmed in May but didn’t happen until early September this year.
“The panic kind of made me push twice as hard,” Bettencourt said.
Another difference this year was all 10 members of the Election Commission participated in the election arrangements. Mari noted that in the time he’s held a seat on the Election Commission, they’ve never had all 10 people during elections.
The lack of participation in past years resulted in the commissioners being left out of the election process at times and the supervisor shouldering the majority of the workload. Due to this, both Bettencourt and Mari said they were completely unprepared for how much work the supervisor and assistant supervisor have to do.
Bettencourt said that although the increased turnout is progress, it isn’t enough for how many students attend the university. By continuing to work now, she hopes that there will be no rush in the spring.
“We’re still in the election frame of mind,” she said. “It’s going to be twice as hard if I stopped and then decided to pick it up in January or February.”
Despite the improvements made to elections, now is not the time for the Election Commission to vacation and bask in their results. Preparations for presidential elections in the spring are already underway
“This was just a warm-up,” Mari said. “Presidential elections are an entirely different animal.”