The official list of ASUCD candidates, released the morning of Feb. 3 by Elections Committee Chair John Wu, revealed a shortage of executive and senate candidates.
One executive ticket and six senate candidates compose the list in total. Given that these numbers correspond to the number of available elected spots in the Executive Office and senate table, all candidates have already secured victories.
Five of the six senate candidates to be elected are from the Students Matter: Activism, Retention, Teamwork (SMART) slate. The incoming senators will add to the four SMART senators elected last fall, thus making SMART constitute three-fourths of the senate. According to former senate pro tempore Gareth Smythe, this means that the SMART slate will be able to pass legislation without having to compromise with independent senators, regardless of any expenses that legislation might carry.
“We’re going to have a very one-perspective dominated student government,” Smythe said. “We’re going to have a SMART Executive. We’re going to have a SMART senate. We’re going to have a SMART Controller. And we might even start having a more SMART-oriented judicial branch.”
The senate has final control over the ASUCD budget, funding bills and allocating money to ASUCD’s various programs and units, such as Picnic Day and KDVS. Student fees (and interest collected from those fees) make up the entirety of the budget. ASUCD collected $628,920 in student fees in the 2013-14 academic year.
Beyond concerns of a SMART-dominated government, ASUCD Vice President Maxwell Kappes expressed concerns about whether the incoming senators will be representative of the larger student body.
“To say that they really represent any groups of students would be a dishonest representation, because they don’t have to make a pitch to anyone,” said Kappes, who ran as an independent last year. “This isn’t a battle of ideas.”
Smythe also questioned how receptive the incoming senators will be to student input.
“It’s really, really compelling when someone can come up to you and say, ‘I voted for you because of this reason,’” said Smythe. “That has a psychological effect on the senator.”
According to Smythe, an uncontested election might also impact the work ethic of the incoming senators.
“The reason why senators hit the ground running is because the election process makes them work for it,” Smythe said. “You get the position. You say, ‘OK, I’m fueled by the energy of the campaign. Let’s do this.’”
Kappes shared Smythe’s apprehension regarding candidate diligence.
“If we’re basically looking at just six people being given a ticket to senate, it means that they’re going to do less work to figure out what the job entails,” Kappes said. “So, I think they may be less serious at the table.”
Because the ASUCD Bylaws do not account for an uncontested election, ASUCD will be running elections as planned. However, Wu stated in an email interview that the Election Committee will diverge from its typical formula in preparing for the election.
According to Wu, the committee will not host the annual Coffee House debate this quarter. Candidates will instead receive an invitation for a Q&A Forum on to be held on Feb. 17 from 7 to 10 p.m. in the Mee Room with Aggie TV live-streaming this event to the public.
Wu specified that the public will not be able to be in the same room as the candidates during the Q&A session.
“This is to avoid outbursts, disturbance, interruptions, foreign noise and other anomalies. The public will be asking questions via a chatbox that will be present aside the video when the event is being live streamed,” he said.
Wu also stated that the Elections Committee is working with current senators, the Executive Office, commissioners and the ASUCD Court to revise the ASUCD Bylaws to deal with uncontested elections.
There are a number of explanations for the low candidate turnout, according to Smythe.
“There are a lot of reasons why [winter elections] normally is both the highest vote share getter and the highest candidate producer. And that’s because there are usually multiple presidential tickets….You have two groups of candidates per Executive Office that want to get as many votes as they can by running senators,” Smythe said.
In an email interview, ASUCD presidential candidate Mariah Watson conveyed a mix of excitement and worry about her unopposed run.
“Being the first black female president – if confirmed – of ASUCD is what I’ve wanted from the first moment I heard about ASUCD. It’s an honor,” Watson said. “However, I’m sad that ASUCD is no longer appealing to students.”
Smythe also indicated that students have become unhappy with the Association.
“We’ve seen legislation lately that people are having a hard time justifying why it relates to their student government – or at least their student experience – and I think that is super detrimental too,” he said.
However, Smythe pointed out that this unhappiness is partially the result of students’ selective participation in ASUCD matters.
“My concern is that people are only coming for specific issues, and that gives them a negative appearance of senate,” he said. “I mean — if you only come to senate during the [Coffee House] culturally insensitive fiasco that was last year, then you’re going to get a very negative impression of the Association.”
Watson vouched that her executive team, which includes vice presidential candidate and current senator Robyn Huey, is determined to improve ASUCD’s public image.
“[Huey] and our amazing coalition of students are overjoyed and [are] ready for the big task of making ASUCD something people can be proud of again,” Watson said.
Creative Media Director Alex Park, who has been a career employee of the Association for more than 15 years, proposed that insufficient marketing of elections may have also contributed to the candidate deficiency.
“ASUCD is not very popular, or word is not getting out,” Park said. “So we have to figure out, via the [Creative Media] Marketing Department or via the Elections Committee, how we can increase people wanting to run for elections,” he said.
The ASUCD Bylaws states that no member of the Elections Committee or Elections staff…or Creative Media student staff shall endorse, make a contribution to, or oppose any candidate, except through voting in the elections.
It is unclear whether this clause prohibits mass promotion of the availability of candidacy petitions. However, Wu proposed that efforts by the Elections Committee to publicize candidacy petitions would be inherently biased, because its resource limitations would make flyering the entire campus impossible.
Low pay may also have contributed to the candidate shortage, Smythe suggested.
“You’re working 30 hours a week. You’re making $45 a week,” Smythe said. “The phrase ‘student representation’ should be very visceral….It should be an expression that we hold in high esteem…What’s admirable about ASUCD will cease to be admirable. And that’s a terrible, terrible thing. I don’t want that to happen.”