Student Government: A Breakdown of the 2016 Spring Elections

After weeks of grueling campaigning, the Spring 2016 Student Government elections are officially over. The results? Impact Party took the Executive ticket. This election cycle was particularly interesting after a video claiming foul play and the existence of a “system” went viral on Facebook just days before the polls opened. In the matter of two days 10,694 students cast their votes hoping to have their voices heard. We decided to take a closer look at the election process, the results and the future of the UF Student Government. 

Student Government elections are held annually during the spring and fall semesters. During the spring, the Executive Branch and 50 senators (categorized by various academic colleges) are elected. The fall elections determine 50 senators in accordance to living area — on campus, off campus and family housing. Once elected, each official serves a one-year term.

On Thursday night, Erica Baker, the UF supervisor of elections, announced the final results to a large crowd in the Reitz Union breezeway. Impact Party won by a landslide, taking a little less than 70 percent of the votes and receiving more than 7,000 votes. This named Susan Webster as Student Body President, Brendon “BJ” Jonassiant as Student Body Vice President and Kishan Patel Student Body Treasurer. Impact also won 39 out of the 50 senate seats. Access won 11 senate seats including one fine arts seat, eight graduate seats, one law school senate seat and one medicine senator seat.

The overwhelming results surprised many, as the winning party came under a lot of scrutiny just a few days before the elections. A video was posted to a Facebook page under the name of  #NotMySystem in hopes of shedding light and demanding change in the UF political process. In the video, Sabrina Phillips, a former member of the Swamp Party, explained how her time in Student Government led her to discover the exclusion of minorities and the advantage of Greek students who were given priority positions.

“I realized that my time at UF was coming to a close and if I wanted to make a difference, I need [sic] to put myself out there,” said Phillips when asked what prompted her to make the video. The video has since received more than 95,000 views.

Phillips is not the first to claim such allegations. Dave Bradshaw, a former Ph.D. student at UF, wrote a comprehensive report on the inequality of the school's political system as his dissertation. The report, known as the “Bradshaw Papers,” included quotes and testimonies from a number of known Student Government influencers, as well as conclusive evidence that points to the existence of a system.

To many students, the accusations were shocking, while others thought it was common knowledge. 

“What she said didn't come as a surprise; it only just justified what a lot of non-Greeks think of SG,” said political science major Katherine Dagand.

Even with such high publicity, the Spring 2016 elections saw a significant decline in student voters after only 10,694 students casted their ballots compared to the record breaking 12,742 voters that turned out during the Spring 2015 electionsMany fear that this drop may be caused by the apathy students have when it comes to campus politics. 

“This voter turnout was troubling. It demonstrated the lack of interest from students in Student Government. It was a testament to how we have disappointed the average student, as most individuals don’t care enough to vote. I don’t blame them; SG operates in such an exclusive and distant manner that most students don’t see a point in voting,” said Narahari Praveen VaranasiDistrict D Senator and Access Party President. 

UF telecommunication student Alex Ciccarone echoed this sentiment, saying ”Maybe if the parties communicated more with the UF community about their potential plans and ideas, instead of getting people’s signatures on things, maybe I would be more interested.” 

The 2016 elections not only proved to be controversial but also groundbreaking, as the amendment to bring online voting to UF's student body was approved. 

In essence, this will allow all UF students to have equal access to voting, such as those enrolled in the Innovation Academy, PACE and Study Abroad. The amendment received 68 percent, with 6,047 votes in support and 2,751 votes against it. It was originally submitted via petition by Global vote and needed 60 percent of votes in order to pass. 

As for the future of UF's student government one thing seems clear: If students want change, they should become educated on campus politics and turn out to vote.   

As for the controversy, the video questioning Student Government's foundation is now receiving national attention with Cosmopolitan Magazine publishing a story on it, and it looks like this is just the beginning.

“Not My System was never about just this election. It's about a system in place for over 40 years that disenfranchises Gators. We have prepared a list of demands with student input and we expect to meet with Dr. Fuchs and negotiate a more equitable Student Government. We will continue pushing national media attention on to this issue until the administration has to acknowledge the corruption and make a change,” said Phillips.

 

Photo Credits: alligator.org