Communication breakdown likely contributed to lackluster voter turnout in Student Government elections

The old Student Government office that is now home to the Pard Pantry. (Photo by Ian Morse ’17)

Important emails get lost in a sea of junk—it happens to everyone. Students are inundated on the daily with Moodle notifications, COVID-19 symptom check reminders, Lafayette Today newsletters and Gateway Career Center notices.

Last month’s Student Government emails, which advertised the then-upcoming elections, were largely overlooked by the student body and also lacked vital information for casting votes. Now, officials in Student Government wonder if this was a cause for the low voter turnout in the election, where less than a third of the student body cast their ballots. 

One of the problems the organization encountered was their inability to send out multiple mass emails to the entire student body with voting information, forcing them to use other tactics instead.

“We really relied on people sending links through group chats, GroupMe, and just asking their friends,” said Deanna Hanchuk ’22, a chair on the PR and Marketing Committee of Student Government. “I personally walked around Acopian and asked students if they had voted yet. My roommate texted our residence hall GroupMe to get everyone on our floors to vote.” 

In addition to personal efforts by members of Student Government to get out the vote, the PR and Marketing Committee sent emails to individual club presidents with voting and application information following the sole email that appeared in the Lafayette Today before the elections.

“It became much more of a networking ordeal since we couldn’t just send something directly into everyone’s inboxes,” Hanchuk said.

Because a lot of the distribution of the voting link went through student organizations, certain segments of the student population may have been more likely to vote than others.

There was a “back and forth” with the Communications Division with regards to sending out email reminders, according to Gina Beviglia ‘22, the Director of PR and Marketing. While some information about the elections was conveyed through the Lafayette Today, many in Student Government pushed for additional broadcasts.

The presidential election voting information was shared in the Lafayette Today on April 9, including a direct link to OurCampus where the polling took place. On April 19 and 20, the Lafayette Today included information and links to applications for new and returning executive board members. On April 22, following the postponement of the executive board elections due to questions over candidate Lauren Ameruoso’s lack of Greek life affiliation, Student Government was allowed to send out a campus-wide email independent of the Lafayette Today which included a link to apply for membership. This last email noted that the link for voting in the executive election on OurCampus would be posted on social media, but none of the other emails included this information, and none contained a direct link to the executive board election poll.

The elections committee corresponded with Director of Internal Communications Dave Block and Senior Director of Communications for Campus Life and Athletics Scott Morse, who eventually permitted Student Government to send out the one campus-wide email. However, this was days before Hank Scheffler ‘22, the director-elect of the Greek Life Committee, announced his bid for the position. Student Government then requested that another email be sent with updated election information, as well as the link to vote, but were rejected.

“The basic guideline is that any notice intended for all students (or an entire class year), all faculty, and/or all staff should be shared via Lafayette Today, not independent mass emails,” Morse wrote in an email. “Limiting mass emails and distributing most information via Lafayette Today is an attempt to address concerns from students, faculty and staff about flooded inboxes and repeated notices.”

This decision by the Communications Division may have affected the lackluster turnout in this year’s races; 30% fewer votes were cast in the Executive Board elections, according to the Vice President of Student Government Ross Coleman ‘22. Executive Secretary Thalia Charles ’22 said there were about 250 fewer votes this year compared to previous elections.

“I definitely think that we would have seen more engagement with the elections and with new member applications, I have to say that from last year we received 40 new member applications, and this year we received 32,” Charles wrote in an email. “I definitely think we could have had more engagement if we had been allowed to send out more than one email. But communications rightfully prioritized using the Lafayette Today and they just encouraged us to use OurCampus. So that’s completely understandable.”

Morse said it is possible “that the absence of a direct email from Student Government contributed to the relatively light initial vote total, which is why we allowed [Student Government] to send a follow-up email directly to students,” referring to the email Student Government sent out soliciting applications for executive board membership on April 22.

The choice to limit mass emails and stick to delivering information via Lafayette Today was to address complaints from students, faculty and staff, according to Morse.

“Everyone thinks that these numbers would definitely increase if we were allowed to send out campus-wide emails,” Coleman said. “The link to applications and ballots going directly to everyone’s email is much easier.” 

Student Government was reprimanded last year for sending a mass email for the Greek life survey, according to Beviglia, causing the PR and Marketing Committee to “work to establish a better relationship” with Communications. That work is apparently not yet over, as Beviglia noted, “it does not seem like they plan to allow us to send emails to students en masse at any time in the near future.”

Disclaimer: Deanna Hanchuk ’22 is a Design Director for The Lafayette. 

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