This year's Undergraduate Student Government election turnout was low. According to data from the Fall 2022 semester, the Tempe campus boasts a population of 57,588 students. In the Tempe executive ticket election 5,050 students voted.
According to Izaac Mansfield, a former USG senator and junior studying computer information systems and innovation in society, this kind of turnout is normal. This shouldn't be the norm and this can change with an increased focus on physical engagement like in USG elections of the past.
"People were posting things in physical areas trying to establish a presence on campus," Mansfield said. "People were campaigning near the MU, down by Barrett, up by Tooker, and really kind of leveraged the full ability of the campaigning process."
Along with the increased focus on physical campaigns came increased public engagement among candidates. For executive tickets, in-person debates used to be held during campaign season to allow candidates to establish their platforms and critique their opponents.
"Particularly for the presidential candidates the debate was a big thing," Mansfield said. "From what I remember of the elections code … if you were on the executive ticket and not coming to the executive ticket debate that was a big deal, that was grounds for potential disqualification."
Unfortunately, as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, these debates and the requirements surrounding them were gradually reduced as election efforts moved online.
"We eased up requirements because some people forgot about it. We're all students, we're all busy. Some people requested it, (saying) 'Hey, this is unfair, I don't live on campus,'" Mansfield said. "That largely came about after COVID and we eased up restrictions in the code to allow for stuff like that."
Additionally, the pandemic created a different approach to campaigning. According to Mansfield, many candidates and USG took advantage of social media in their campaigns to spread the news of the election, instead of a more traditional, in-person approach.
Post-pandemic, USG has largely continued its focus on online engagement.
For example, during the recent elections, an email was sent out to students that had reminders about voting and a link to where students could vote on Sun Devil Sync.
While this is great, the drawbacks are inherent. To receive this news, in most cases, you have to follow specific social media accounts and watch for emails regarding the election. Otherwise, you'll be left behind with lackluster information coming from physical sources around campus.
For example, if you were a freshman on the Downtown Phoenix campus, like me, those efforts – physically speaking – were a poster outside of the elevators at Gordon Commons (formerly Taylor Place), which included a date for the polls and a link to Sun Devil Sync.
This – at least if you were a Downtown Phoenix campus student – was USG's attempt at providing physical, easy-to-access information on the election and its candidates. Neither of which informed me of candidates in the running or their platforms.
However, some USG candidates have begun to place a returned emphasis on in-person campaigning.
Candidates such as Patrick Apap, a junior studying public service and public policy who ran on the USG Downtown executive ticket as vice president of services, held tablings on campus.
READ MORE: Meet the USG Downtown Phoenix campus executive officers for 2023-2024
"I know that in the future, marketing should be definitely worked upon," Apap said. "In a general sense, and also for the campaign. For myself, we had some flyers out, we passed out a lot of promotional material, and we had two tablings."
I believe USG as a whole should follow suit and increase its physical presence post-pandemic. Doing so would not hurt online student engagement, but if executed properly, could actually bolster it.
Imagine, for example, bringing back those mandatory executive ticket debates. These debates could be held in public, central areas of the four main campuses, drawing student attention to them while helping to put a name to a face running for a position. These debates could be shared on Zoom or a similar platform, allowing online students to participate and learn just as much as an on-campus student.
Instead of needing to follow various social media accounts, one could just click a link or walk somewhere on campus and be informed and more engaged, simple as that.
Edited by Kate Duffy, Reagan Priest, Jasmine Kabiri and Grace Copperthite.
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Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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