In response to a resolution passed by the UCSC Student Union Assembly (SUA), Chancellor Blumenthal has increased the voting threshold for campus-based fees in this year’s campus elections from 25 percent to 33 percent.
In campus elections each measure must pass with a 51 percent voter approval. The voting threshold is the percentage of students who must vote on a measure in order for the vote to be valid.
If the voting threshold is not met, the measure is automatically defeated. This was the case last year when only 3,139 of the total 15,719 — or 19.97 percent — of students participated in the elections.
According to the resolution passed by SUA, UCSC’s undergraduates currently pay the most compulsory campus-based student fees of the UC system, 27 referenda totaling $1,073.41 in fees a year.
Members of the SUA, including Commissioner of Academic Affairs Matt Palm, say the previous threshold was too low, allowing for a small number of students to levy a fee against the entire student population.
“We feel very strongly that if we are all going to be taxed, more students need to agree to it and vote,” Palm said. “We didn’t want a continued situation where all students can be taxed, often without knowing what is going on, at the discretion of a small minority of students actually voting.”
The SUA considered the voting thresholds of some other UC campuses in determining the 33 percent figure; however, the threshold differs on each campus because University policy grants the authority to determine campus voting thresholds to the chancellors.
“Each Chancellor is delegated the authority to determine the voting threshold on their campus, Chancellor Blumenthal has agreed to change it for this year, because of the SUA resolution,” Campus Elections Commissioner Lucy Rojas said.
While the intent of the change is to require more student participation in elections, it will also make it more difficult for students to pass fees in support of services facing cuts from other campus funding sources.
“This policy will impact the ability of referendum to pass — in the future if the sustainability office needs funding, or OPERs wants a referendum to keep the gym open longer, it will be harder to get referendum to pass, but not impossible,” Palm said.
In the past 10 years the campus elections participation has only reached 33 percent twice, and failed to meet the previous 25 percent threshold three times.
The average voter turn out since 2000 has been 27.01 percent, with the highest turnout of 37.02 percent for the emergency election to decide Measure 7 in Winter 2003. The lowest turn-out was the following year with 13.35 percent of students participating in the spring 2004 elections.
Due to the ability of voters to abstain from voting on measures individually, some measures may have failed to meet the voting threshold and therefore failed even if the overall elections participation did meet it.
Campus administrators echo the sentiment that while the higher threshold may make it more difficult to create new fees, it will not be impossible.
“Passing measures is still very possible, it’s just a matter of implementing good outreach and marketing,” said Rojas.
The move to raise the campus threshold comes after the University Office of the President raised systemwide fees by 32.5 percent, increasing the overall price of a UC education. The increase in fees led administrators and students to reevaluate how much they pay overall.
“Chancellor Blumenthal was very sympathetic to the issue raised by the SUA, especially given the recent increases in UC systemwide fees that are challenging UCSC students and their families,” said Jim Burns, Director of Public Information, in an email.
Blumenthal has requested an opinion poll be placed on this year’s election’s ballot to survey student opinion on the change. If students are in favor of the increased voting threshold it will become permanent.
“In this economic climate, it seemed reasonable to him to temporarily increase the voter threshold for levying new campus fees. But he was uncomfortable doing this longer term without additional student input.” Burns also said in his email.