Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 9, 2022

Communication errors reported in 2022-23 SGA elections

By MOLLY GAHAGEN | April 18, 2022

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JOHN D’CRUZ/GRAPHICS EDITOR

The CSE reported student turnout as 20.3%. An investigation by The News-Letter found that this figure mischaracterized voter participation.

Students and candidates have voiced complaints about the campaign cycle timeline and voter turnout data reporting for this year’s Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Board and class council elections. The Committee on Student Elections (CSE) is responsible for organizing elections and reporting results. 

Communication and timeline

Prior to announcing candidacy, prospective candidates had to attend one information session. In-person sessions took place on March 7 and 8, with a Zoom option on March 9. The executive debate was held on March 10, and March 11 was the Candidate Meet and Greet. Elections were held online from March 14 to 17; results were announced on March 18.

Current SGA Executive Vice President and incoming Executive President Breanna Soldatelli spoke in an interview with The News-Letter about how this timeline likely contributed to the low voter turnout.

“This year, from when the very last info session ended to when the election period ended was barely a week, and that's not nearly enough time to campaign and vote,” she said. “CSE spammed the student body with emails, and there's no way the student body read the nine-ish emails that they sent out... so that probably decreased voter turnout.”

According to Soldatelli, no CSE representatives were present at the Candidate Meet and Greet on the Breezeway to confirm candidates attended.

Current SGA Executive President Mehak Ali echoed Soldatelli’s perspective in an email to The News-Letter.

“CSE needs to start spotlighting elections and broadcasting their timeline at the beginning of the spring semester to give people adequate time to start thinking about running,” she wrote. “The lack of communication has been one of the few reasons there has been decreased voter turnout and decreased candidate application.”

Raymond Perez, who also ran for executive president, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that there needs to be a change in the current structure of the elections, in which executive board elections happen at the same time as class council elections.

“There are reasons to have a quick election. For instance, students may not really understand the difference between class council and E-board elections,” he wrote. “However, this is more of an issue of spreading awareness... There also needs to be a separation between the two elections for other reasons: E-board elections are not competitive because losing an E-board election means losing a class senate seat.”

Soldatelli stated that candidates had less than 24 hours after the last information session to prepare for the debate.

Data reporting

CSE reported a 20.3% voter turnout. This statistic was calculated by adding the number of votes in the executive board and class council elections and dividing by the number of eligible voters in the student body. This calculation accounts for votes cast, not unique voters. Students were eligible to vote in both their class council and executive board elections. According to Calvin L. Smith Jr., senior director of LEED, individual voter data is not tracked.

Out of 5,040 eligible voters, 426 votes were cast in the executive board election, which comes out to an 8.5% turnout for that election. 

In the senior class council election, 151 votes were cast out of 1,138 eligible voters, which comes out to a 13.3% voter turnout for the Class of 2023. In the junior class council election, 251 votes were cast out of 1,228 eligible voters, a 20.4% voter turnout for the Class of 2024. In the sophomore class council election, 197 votes were cast out of 1,337 eligible voters, a 14.7% voter turnout for the Class of 2025.

Perez commented that the overall voter turnout method of calculation should not be used. 

“The statistic doesn't make sense because it double-counts votes to artificially inflate turnout,” he wrote. “Turnout should be calculated by election; it's a way of measuring how engaged students are and how much they're willing to put in effort to show support for a candidate. This only works by distinguishing between elections.”

Similarly, Ali thinks it is important to capture unique voter turnout data to provide a more accurate statistic.

“CSE needs to start organizing their data and giving us more unique voter turnout information in order to accurately represent the people who voted,” she wrote. “It should be divided by class and by either exec or class council, so future candidates who run can target specific audiences in election cycles.”

Soldatelli cited additional factors which may have contributed to data errors.

“[CSE] sent out the voting links, and everybody had access to all of that. I don't know how they fix that, but freshmen could, apparently, initially vote in the junior elections,” she said. 

CSE did not respond to The News-Letter‘s request for comment about election timeline and communication.

Next steps

Soldatelli stated that while SGA members are not allowed to interfere with election procedures due to a conflict of interest, she hopes that CSE will attempt to ensure greater efficiency and transparency.

“I'm not saying SGA is blameless at all whatsoever, but I think CSE needs to take some accountability for this because they're the ones who are responsible for running the elections, and there were numerous, numerous issues,” she said. “I'm just frustrated that they haven't come forward and not even taken accountability.”

She described how SGA is attempting to increase transparency and publicize its efforts.

“We've been trying to be more transparent, and over the last year we've been taking steps: We livestream all of our meetings, we have constant Instagram posts, we summarize things, we made our emails shorter,” she said. “We've really been trying to advertise what we're doing as representatives.”

Ali believes changing voting methods would increase voter turnout in the future.

“CSE should start making elections a more physical concept on campus. To promote voters to vote, there should be an online option (kind of congruent with absentee voting) but also multiple in-person voting booths on campus that students can go to,” she wrote. “This would help students visibly see that elections are occurring and maybe motivate more people to vote and in turn change the culture around SGA elections.”

Correction: The previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Soldatelli is currently SGA Executive Secretary. The News-Letter regrets this error.

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