Turnout for UI student elections doesn't bode well for primary

Turnout for UI student elections doesn't bode well for primary

CHAMPAIGN — If student elections held Wednesday and Thursday at the University of Illinois are any indication, the prospects for campus turnout in the March 20 Illinois primary don't look good, especially since it falls during spring break.

Campuswide participation in last week's election was just 11.78 percent, down from just under 15 percent in 2017. The issue that garnered the most participation — 4,833 votes out of 45,813 potential voters, or about 10.5 percent — was a referendum on whether the UI should divest from companies linked to human-rights violations. It was rejected by a vote of 3,133-1,700, or 65 percent to 35 percent, a wider margin than last year's defeat of 3,627-2,762, or 57 percent to 43 percent.

Although she was excited to learn that UI students again voted "no" to the question of divestment, Hayley Nagelberg, president of United Illini for a United Campus, was disappointed by the low number of votes.

"It's a really low turnout," she said. "If just 3 percent of students really felt strongly about something, they could make a decision that could impact the entire student body."

But Nagelberg said in terms of next week's primary, she isn't discouraged by the student election numbers and thinks the recent surge of political involvement among young people around the country will be reflected at the polls.

It's a hope shared by Ben Chapman, who is seeking write-in votes to run as a Democrat against Republican state Sen. Chapin Rose of Mahomet for his 51st Illinois Senate District seat in November. He, Nathan Poulosky and Sullivan Peterson-Quinn participated in an "Ask Me Anything" discussion Monday on Reddit to talk specifically about voter turnout next week.

The Illini for Ebel members have a goal to get 1,500 students to the polls and hopefully get some to cast ballots for religion Professor Jon Ebel, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, for his 13th Congressional District seat in November.

"We're being told that turnout is too low to make a difference and we shouldn't even bother courting student votes," Chapman wrote in the Reddit thread. "Thing is, we're students and we think we matter, and we think you (UI students) matter too."

Chapman added that low voter turnout in student elections may be tied to a lack of awareness. Some students don't feel informed or motivated enough to vote, he said. As for state and national elections, "when more students turn out, candidates care more about student issues."

Peterson-Quinn, who authored Illinois Student Government's Illini Voting Day resolution in an effort to get out the vote for the March 20 primary, called Tuesday the de facto Election Day for UI students, as that is the day in-person early voting begins — starting at 10 a.m. in Room 213 of the Illini Union — and many of them will be leaving town by the end of the week.

"We are treating tomorrow like its Election Day," he said. "We brought together a lot of organizations who have worked all weekend and through this week to turn out the vote."

He added that this year's primary, with so many competitive races statewide, has a lot of campaigns seeking to court students in an effort to beef up their base.

"Students are angry and ready for a change, and there is an enthusiasm among the student population for this election," Peterson-Quinn said. "I think the county clerk will be very surprised tomorrow."