Student Election Apathy

Marlene Mora, 23, communication studies, studying at the cafeteria during the Associated Students debate. Mora didn't even notice what was going on outside. Photo taken Tuesday March 28, 2017. Santa Monica College, Calif. Photo by Emeline Moquillon.

The Associated Students debates happened right outside the cafeteria... Yet the orange chicken drew larger crowds. Why is that?

Inside the bustling cafeteria, Marlene Mora, a 23-year-old communication major, was sitting at a tall table next to the window, rushing to get her math homework done. Mora was so preoccupied with her homework that she didn’t notice the Associated Students Elections Debate was well under way just outside the window. “I didn’t even know it was happening right now until you told me,” Mora said.

She wasn't the only one. Students went through the day without knowing the Associated Student Electoral Debate had even occurred. According to Chemistry major Ila Castro, who noticed the debate crowd through the window, there wasn’t enough information to let her know what was going on. “I was trying to figure out if the elections were happening outside because we didn’t see any announcements about it,” she said.

Castro was at last year’s AS election debate too, but she didn’t know about the event ahead of time; she merely stumbled upon it. Most students don’t really have a choice on how they get to spend their activity hour. When the choice is between eating lunch and doing homework, or watching the debates and visiting the health booths, it’s obvious where a student’s priorities lie.

The "trend" of overlooking AS debates continued with Caglar Duman, an Interior Architecture major. He was also finishing up a quick lunch before heading to class. “I care about what happens on campus, but I don’t have the time to participate. None of my friends mentioned the debate to me so they probably didn’t know either,” he said.

Voter apathy is a striking phenomenon with U.S. politics which follows even the smallest local governments. Eligible voters set aside their right to vote because of convenience, preferring to critique how the system is run. The debates tackled multiple problems like parking and affordable food which are major complaints on the unofficial SMC Facebook page. Yet the crowd at Tuesday's debate was mostly filled with Black Collagens and Home Girls and Home Boys members, rather than average students.

Tuesday's debate was held at the Clock Tower Quad, where the foot traffic is not as high as the main quad. The main quad had been occupied by the Health Fair on the same day.

There was also miscommunication between AS and candidates. Tuesday's debate was intended to be for candidates for the president, vice president, student trustee, and director of budget management. Candidates for other positions showed up well suited for the stage regardless of debate guidelines. These other candidates were allowed to introduce themselves near the end for 60 seconds each, however.

The Associated Students constitution only allows candidates three days to prepare and campaign for their position. This lead to the candidate names being finalized only one day prior to the debate which did not give the candidates time to outreach to the student body. Voting started one day after the debate on Wednesday, March 29, at 12:45 p.m.