Student Union election breaks turnout record
New exec elected, SU compensation amendment does not pass student body
Despite only two of five Student Union executive positions being contested, a record-breaking 47 percent of students voted in Tuesday’s elections, breaking the previous record of 41.1 percent from spring 2012.
The two contested races—for vice president of finance and vice president of administration—were won by junior Iliana Ragnone and sophomore Tess Mandoli, respectively. Sophomore Sydney Robinson, who ran uncontested after two other candidates dropped out, will serve as SU’s president. Sophomore Kyle Jeter will be vice president of programming, and sophomore Bilal Hyder will be vice president of public relations. The new exec will be inaugurated on March 28.
Senior and current VP Admin Cary Cheng, who aimed to beat the voter turnout record, felt that the increase in turnout was due largely to increased student interest in voting. He and junior Amelia Fong, the current VP PR, worked together to create buttons and set up a voting booth outside the Danforth University Center for the day of the election.
“We set up a voting booth outside the DUC; we pestered people around lunchtime and we handed out buttons to make sure people know it’s election day, and it’s important to vote,” Cheng said. “I think it really comes down to the importance SU is placing on Election Day, and if we place an importance on getting people to turn out, they will turn out. I also think a lot of it is not really on the new initiatives we tried out but I think there is really a shift in students’ mindsets toward voting and they care more about what’s on the ballot.”
Senior Kenneth Sng, SU’s current president, noted that the actions taken by Cheng and Election Commissioner Savannah Rush, a junior, helped increase turnout and engage people.
“The physical effort that was put into engaging people was very significant; Cary and Savannah also did other things. I know Cary made hundreds of buttons and gave them out to students who voted, so I know they did a lot of physical engagement,” Sng said.
Senate and Treasury each had 16 candidates running for 13 seats, a change from last year, when not enough candidates ran to fill all open Treasury seats. According to Sng, this increased contestation led to more campaigning from candidates, also working to drive turnout.
Last year, all elected SU exec officers were people of color for the first time since at least 2009. This year, the executive board is less racially diverse, but three of five officers are female, which Sng and Robinson both said demonstrates the increased gender diversity of the body.
“Coming into this exec, where it’s the majority female, I think it just speaks to the culture we’ve started to promote in SU, where regardless of gender you can still be elected to these roles,” Robinson said.
One of Robinson’s goals for the coming year is to increase diversity within Student Union, which she hopes to do by making the Diversity Affairs Council (DAC) report—released last semester and showing the composition of SU—annual, as well as by incorporating the DAC more wholly into Student Union. Robinson also wants to expand the Opportunity Fund, started this year to provide funding for activities to students of low socioeconomic status.
“There’s a lot of potential for us to continue expanding on this; it’s kind of starting to address the issue of socioeconomic status hindering students from becoming involved on campus, and I really want to push the long-term expansion of this,” she said.
The Opportunity Fund and the DAC report were two of the main projects Sng focused on during his term, in addition to expanding It’s On Us from one training into three. Sng said he started off the term hoping to accomplish 50 tangible changes, as the 50th SU exec, and noted that he will send a year-end report out soon.
“At the beginning of the year, we had an ambitious goal for the 50th Student Union to make 50 concrete, tangible improvements for the student body and organization,” Sng said. “We’ll release [a report] toward the end of our term, but I have confidence the 51st SU executive board will achieve even greater success than we did.”
Constitutional amendments were on the ballot for making Leaders in Interpersonal Violence an SU entity, providing financial compensation to Student Union executives, revising the class council constitution, eliminating a policy requiring Treasury to reserve a spot for any student who is the only one from their school running and combining Green Events Commission and Student Sustainability Fund into a Student Sustainability Board. These amendments needed 66.7 percent support to pass and all did save for the compensation of executive officers.
Sng said the no vote from the student body on the compensation amendment serves to show that students exercised caution when voting, rather than simply voting in favor of everything.
“What I think is really heartening is that the students really responded to the amendment. They didn’t just rubber stamp the amendments on the ballot, and I think that goes to show that Wash. U. students do vote conscientiously,” he said.
Robinson added that the amendment might be approached again in the future but that the governing body would seek more feedback first.
“I know a lot of people asked why all of the exec members would receive this compensation and not just those who had that need for it,” she said. “If we do revisit it, we have a lot more that we can look into and see if this is a good idea—like talking with more people, getting student input on it.”
Uncle Joe’s, Campus Y, Habitat for Humanity and Emergency Support Team submitted block funding petitions and received the 1,017 signatures—or 15 percent of the student body—necessary to be placed on the ballot. The amendments needed two-thirds approval from students to receive funding, and each of these petitions was funded.
Some of the senior, junior and sophomore class council seats had no candidates who filed election materials, but SU worked to get interested students to wage write-in campaigns. Write-in candidates need 75 votes in order to be placed in a position. For those positions where no candidate received 75 votes, class council presidents may nominate someone of their choosing.
However, Sng said he hopes class council presidents will consider those write-in candidates when filling positions.
“The decision lies up to the class council presidents to nominate the top contender for each write-in campaign, but I’m optimistic they would strongly consider appointing the top contenders,” he said.