This year’s BUSU elections yielded record-breaking voter turnout. 5,160 votes were cast, representing approximately 28.4 per cent of Brock students. Much of this is due to the fact that the elections have been extremely publicized this year, both through social media and a large physical presence on campus. The halls of South Block were crowded with hopeful candidates, many of whom believed their success in the election would be determined by the aggressiveness of their online campaigns.
Additionally, the ease of voting through the Brock University e-mail system makes voting in student elections far more attractive than provincial or federal elections, which mandate attending a community voter station with relevant identification.
When voting in a federal election, you’re trapped within a cardboard folder. It’s a blocking space of privacy and discretion, and all you’re presented with is a list of names and parties. However, in the BUSU elections, candidates are able to submit their photos and a short blurb about their platform to be distributed on the virtual voter card. These photos have the potential to be problematically influential, especially for those voters who haven’t followed the candidate debates or carefully sorted through their platforms.
“The stance that the Elections Office takes with regards to the ballot centres around making the ballot as comprehensive and informative as possible,” said Jimmy Norman, BUSU Chief Returning Officer. “When voters get to the ballot, we want to ensure that they can relate or recall a candidate they either saw or spoke with.
Therefore, the presence of both a picture and blurb helps [in our opinion] voters do so. How students vote, whether it is based on popularity or the photo, is the decision of each individual voter. We have had a plethora of executives that have been voted in that come from various backgrounds, faculties, and areas of Brock.”
While the freedom to vote on whatever qualifications they see fit is truly in the hands of the voter, the primary resource that every student receives through their e-mail should not facilitate voters to use the appearance of the candidate to influence their decision.
For those voters unwilling to keep up with elections coverage, is the blurb enough to make an informed decision? Probably not, but at least it gives you an indication of what the candidate values, as well as some sense of their ideas and strategies.
The influence of candidate attractiveness and physical appearance is a real and present issue, not only in university politics, but in international and federal politics as well.
In a study by the University of California (Jan. 2015), the research team reviewed a California state election by providing two alternate voter cards: one with photos and the other without. Candidates who had a disadvantage in attractiveness on average, scored about 10 points lower on the photo voter card than the text voter card.
That being said, these voter cards did not have the candidate blurbs, and the study finds that, “The effect may be smaller in contexts where appearance is less prominent and other candidate information more readily available”.
I’m not stating that the results of the 2015 BUSU election were influenced by physical appearance, I’m simply stating that it is a relevant concern. Even thoughts as simple as “wow, he looks Presidential”, or “I’m not sure if she looks trustworthy” could ultimately result in unfair and biased results poll results. BUSU must safeguard that elections voter cards and the practices in place do not facilitate an unaware, Tinder style of voting — for elections to mean something, they must be based on information and awareness.