Elias Warren, a current UPUA at-large representative, often asks himself during election season, “Why is it we don’t have many contested categories?”
That question may be more important than ever this year during a historic University Park Undergraduate Association election with the first unopposed executive ticket for president and vice president.
In recent years, UPUA has seen a fluctuation in the number of contested categories. In the 2011 elections, 10 of 15 categories were contested, and in the 2012 elections, five categories were contested. This year, there are five contested categories — but, for the first time, the executive ticket is uncontested. The UPUA election is Wednesday.
Student opinion on whether this year’s uncontested executive ticket will affect voter turnout is varied. UPUA deputy commissioner of candidacy David Harrington said because there is no precedent for having one executive ticket, he is not sure if there will be more or less voters this year. Warren also wasn’t sure whether voter turnout would be different this year. In 2012, 19 percent of Penn State students voted in the UPUA election, or 7,344 people.
UPUA head elections commissioner John Zang said he expects voter turnout to decrease because of the historic executive ticket.
“With every election, it’s not just commissioner’s publicizing the elections, but the contested presidential elections is largely what fuels voter turnout,” Zang said.
Warren (senior-management) said people might have been deterred from running for the executive ticket because they knew the current vice president was planning to run “alongside a popular running mate.”
“That’s not a bad thing, but [students] might say, ‘It’s just not worth my time,’ ” he said.
And Zang said it was “well known” in the assembly that the pair was planning to run, possibly dissuading current UPUA members from running.
Jenna Heffler, president of Penn State Hillel, had her own ideas of reasons why more students may not run in UPUA elections in general.
Heffler (junior-risk management) used to be involved in UPUA as a freshman intern in the YOUSRV program until she realized she wanted to get involved in other organizations. Heffler said there is a lack of awareness about UPUA from students on the outside of the organization, which may cause a lack of student interest in running for elections.
“You don’t have to be totally involved in UPUA to run for a position, but some people may not know that,” Heffler said. “People think there is a high barrier of entry, and so may be intimidated from running or not think it’s worth it.”
Harrington (senior-political science) said intimidation is natural when anyone is looking to take on a larger role in the community, including student government. But, Harrington said he tried to help students who may have been feeling that way. Harrington said that when students are unsure of what they will be doing in upcoming semesters, the time commitment can also be intimidating.
Zang also said many students probably view UPUA as intimidating because of the complexity of assembly meetings. Warren said students also do not think of UPUA as “bold,” which is why some categories in elections may not have many candidates.
“UPUA needs to be bold in its actions, like we are going to tackle major issues like tuition,” Warren said. “The somewhat small issues are beneficial, but I don’t think that they get as much press and don’t excite the student population as if we did something big.”
Corey Lonberger, president of the Penn State Veterans Organization, said most of the time he only hears about UPUA during elections season.
This elections season, UPUA used a student leader roundtable listserv — which includes The Daily Collegian’s Editor in Chief Casey McDermott — to reach out to student leaders, like Lonberger, to encourage them to run in the upcoming election. Lonberger (senior - public relations and biological anthropology) said he thought the email was effective in attracting his attention to UPUA elections.
Lonberger also said more emails throughout the year could be helpful to reach out to student leaders and to help with specific goals for undergraduates.
UPUA has tried different publicity methods during the school year, Harrington said. UPUA used to pay for advertisements by putting its name on tangible goods, Harrington said, but UPUA has tried to stay away from that this year.
Zang said UPUA might require, but does not deserve, more publicity than any other organization on campus because of the money and authority it has for undergraduate students.
“Most of the time, UPUA tries to rely on media coverage to publicize itself because there is a lot of reluctance on the part of UPUA to spend Student Activity Fee money on self-promotion,” Zang said.
But, Ryan Cochran, a current agricultural sciences representative, said one of the things UPUA needs to improve on is its outreach efforts — a problem which could contribute to the one-executive ticket election. But, he said this is not the only “disappointing” result of too little outreach.
“It’s disappointing when you go around and you say you are in UPUA, and some people don’t even know what UPUA is,” Cochran (senior-agricultural sciences) said.
Confusion surrounding this year’s election code has also been suggested among reasons for uncontested tickets and a decrease in outreach. Zang said students might have been unwilling to run for elections this year because the elections code was passed three academic days before registration began.
On Feb. 7, a new elections code was proposed to the general assembly, but it was met with opposition from representatives, who said it was too close to the elections season to vote on a new elections code. At UPUA’s Feb. 13 general meeting, the assembly decided to not pass a new elections code and instead be governed by a slightly modified version of the 2012 elections code.
In the past, there has been more time between the passing of an elections code and the beginning of the registration period for candidates. In 2012, registration began 18 academic days after the elections code was passed, and in 2011, registration began 13 academic days after passing the elections code.
“Instead of having three days, [UPUA usually] has a month to send commissioners to different organizations and reach out to different groups who don’t usually get UPUA visits,” Zang said.
Harrington also said he thinks the elections code affected the number of tickets this year because “if there is more time to register and more time for the press to get the word out and to do outreach, [elections] will bring a bigger audience and a larger turnout.”
Zang said personal outreach is hard to do on the weekends, so having only three academic days, and five days total, before registration began was not enough time to reach out to the hundreds of organizations on campus who could benefit from having UPUA representation.
“We did the best we could with limited resources and the time we had,” Zang said. “Despite lack of competition on the executive [ticket], I’m pleased with what we were able to do.”
Jordan Rolon, Interfraternity Council vice president of communications, said elections probably should have been publicized more, and students should have been given more explanations as to what joining UPUA will allow them to do for the rest of the student body. Rolon (junior-recreation, park and tourism management) said some students don’t understand all they can do if elected into UPUA.
But, Rolon did not think the elections code affected those students who already planned on running.
“If there’s something you really want, you look out for it,” Rolon said. “The people who really wanted [to run] were on top of it.”
Other students said the passing of the elections code did not affect registration turnout this year.
Curtis Houck, an off-campus representative this year, said it was “unfortunate” that the elections code was passed late, and said it’s always best to be ahead. But, he did not think this was the main reason that many tickets, including the executive one, are uncontested.
Heffler said although she thinks confusion over the elections code was part of the reason why there is only one executive ticket, it probably didn’t stop students who were already planning on running.
“If you are that passionate about UPUA, an error in the elections code isn’t going to make that much of a difference,” Heffler said.