ASUC elections go online, force candidates to adapt

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ASUC elections have moved completely online, forcing candidates to alter their campaigning strategies and the ASUC Elections Council to find new ways to get the word out about voting.

The decision was made in response to campus’s move to remote classes and the shelter-in-place order over the COVID-19, or the new coronavirus, pandemic. According to ASUC Elections Council chair James Weichert, voting will take place completely online.

“We recognize right now the elections aren’t on the forefront of everyone’s mind,” Weichert said. “But, these elections are vital, not only ensuring that students have a voice but also in terms of student fees and other big policy decisions.”

When most candidates declared their intent to run, they envisioned a normal election period where they would be able to meet with communities in person, attend different club meetings and hand out flyers on Sproul Plaza to connect with potential voters.

Today, running a campaign for most means scheduling online calls with community and club leaders, emphasizing social media posts and messaging individuals directly. Many candidates also described relying on established relationships and asking friends of friends to share their platforms.

Some candidates have moved their original plans online, including ASUC Senate hopeful Natasha Ham, who is hosting a town hall and virtual “office hours” over the teleconference platform Zoom.

Reilani Gervacio, a candidate for ASUC academic affairs vice president and senate, said ASUC president and senate candidate Stephanie Gutierrez has started a podcast about their party’s candidates. They have also started a YouTube channel and are asking people to “pledge” their support through a form, Gutierrez added.

Many said the transition to online, which included moving back home for some students, and diversion from the traditional style of campaigning was challenging.

“Navigating (elections) virtually seems like the most daunting thing I’ve ever done,” said Valerie Johnson, a candidate for transfer representative. “The competitiveness of the elections cycle is hard, and online is so much harder.”

Transfer representative candidate Risa Fulkerson and senate hopeful Suhyp Youssef said, as transfer students who have been on campus for one full semester, online campaigning poses a challenge for them because their connections are limited.

Expressing similar feelings, Johnson said, as a junior transfer, not observing a regular ASUC election has also made things difficult.

“The connections to make online are very limited if you don’t have the ‘necessary clout,’ ” Fulkerson said.

Those who have been on campus for more than one semester and who are running with political parties voiced similar concerns. ASUC Senators Haazim Amirali, who is running for ASUC president, Derek Imai, who is running for ASUC external affairs vice president, and Melvin Tangonan, who is running for ASUC executive vice president, said they also feel they are missing out on meeting new people.

Many candidates, including senate hopefuls Julia Castro and Aasim Yahya, said they feel uncomfortable reaching out to people because of the gravity of many students’ situations with family, illness and finances.

ASUC presidential candidate Victoria Vera said she is trying to combat this by creating light-hearted material, such as TikToks and fun Instagram stories. Her campaign manager even posted an Animal Crossing screenshot supporting Vera on Twitter, promising to dye his hair pink if the promotion receives 50 retweets.

Other candidates described similar strategies, including memes and Twitch streams, as part of their campaign content.

“If we’re not going to enjoy this, no one is going to enjoy this,” Vera said. “We know this is a hard time, but we’re all in this together.”

For many, voter turnout is a major concern due to the online nature of elections and the extra challenges with engaging students. Candidates had mixed feelings on the effects of remoteness, however.

Some candidates, such as Castro and fellow senate hopefuls Maddy Chen and Ellis Spickermann, said they believe voter turnout could increase because students are presumably spending more time on their laptops. They said they believe a post on social media or an email with a link to vote could be enough to prompt many students to participate in the election.

Most, however, said they expected voter turnout to fall due to the distance from campus and the extenuating circumstances the pandemic has caused for many students.

“I’m honestly scared, because without the visual reminder on Sproul that it’s election season, it’s hard to reach out to groups that historically do not vote,” said ASUC Senate candidate Tessa Stapp. “This could cost us valuable representation within the ASUC.”

For many candidates, including Imai, the most concerning part about potential low voter turnout is the threshold that the Class Pass Student Fee Renewal proposition — which would fund student AC Transit passes and campus shuttles if passed — requires to be validated. According to Weichert, per UC Office of the President guidelines, 20% of the student body needs to vote in the ASUC elections on student fee referendums to pass.

Despite the focus on other issues, Weichert, along with many other candidates, still believes ASUC elections are important.

ASUC Senate candidate Ruchi Shah said new leaders need to be elected to guarantee that there will be leadership in case any emergencies come up in the next academic year.

Weichert added that elections guarantee the longevity of the ASUC itself.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” Weichert said. “We’re so resilient as an institution that we’re able to ensure that, because of this disruption, we’re not disrupting representation for thousands of students down the line.”

ASUC elections will take place from April 6-8 on CalLink. The ASUC tabulations ceremony will be held April 10 on a livestream.

Kate Finman is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.