by Nick Leahey
The Student Government Association held it’s first of two candidate galleries for their fall elections on Thursday in the Devil’s Den with just 29 spectators and only eight of the 26 candidates running present.
“It was planned on somewhat of a short notice,” said Senator Eric Ott, Chairman of the Public Affairs committee which oversees elections and related events. “It wasn’t mandatory for candidates.”
The lack of attendance, however, illustrated the larger problem the SGA faces with voter turnout and student participation in related events when it comes to elections.
One of the most recent examples, occurred during the last election period in the spring. “Last year’s voter turnout was atrocious,” said Ott, adding that roughly 0.5 percent of all students voted in the last election.
While some audience members were engaged throughout the three-part event, which consisted of a candidate gallery, Q&A session and minute-to-win-it mini games, others were not.
“I just came for the food,” said Jake Werman, a senior who was in attendance. Some of those who attended, like Werman, left after they received food, while others stayed for the rest of the event.
“Some candidates probably have plans like most students do on Thursday nights, or it could be that others may just go about running a different way,” explained Ott, making it clear that all candidates were notified of the event, but unsure as to why some might not have been in attendance.
The event, nonetheless, was insightful.
During the Q&A session, students asked questions about various issues on campus. Ironically, one of the most popular topics was the improving the participation of students, especially commuters, in events on campus so as to not alienate them from the university. Many candidates, including Joshua Quintana, Jalal Butt and Dave Falvo, outlined their goals about how to do so.
“I want to make the SGA work for commuter students,” said Quintana, who is running for a Commuter Senator seat.
Falvo, a freshman running for a Freshman Senator seat, also explained how he would look into the idea of commuter-only events, referencing how there are resident-only events on campus.
Whereas most candidates had a common platform of ensuring the voice of the student population, others advocated for specific portions thereof.
Zoe Grant, a junior psychology major running for Senator At-Large, is an advocate for those with mental health issues. “I believe there’s not enough awareness on campus about it,” she said. She hopes to bring more attention to the issue if elected.
Tiffany Aguilera, a freshman running for a Freshman Senator seat, also uses her advocacy for physically disabled students as a part of her campaign platform. Her goal is to make campus a friendlier place for those who are physically disabled. “Being disabled myself, I know what it’s like,” she explained.
“As much as it was a promotion, it was also for the senators to get a feel for what the issues actually are,” stated Ott.
Based on the questions asked, some of the issues were clear and repetitive. The issue of parking, for instance, was one of the first issues in which all candidates agreed needed to be improved, however no real solutions were offered by any candidate.
Despite the low attendance, the Public Affairs committee is confident that the voter turnout will be higher than in the last election, and that the next gallery will be have a higher attendance. “It’s a process to get people involved,” said Ott. He added that the Public Affairs committee will be making a conscience effort to advertise for the next event, contrary to what occurred this time.
“I do wish more people came,” said Senator Jahmil Effend, a member of the Public Affairs committee who also ran the event.
The next candidate gallery will be held on Sept. 25th, in the Student Center, after Climb Leadership Day.