When fewer than 100 ballots can mean the difference between a win and a loss, candidates for the Student Association’s top spots recognize the power of voting blocs.
In the last five Student Association races, winning candidates have garnered support from key graduate student groups like the Student Bar Association, the College Republicans, the College Democrats and the Graduate School of Political Management Student Association.
The historically disconnected graduate population – significantly larger than its undergraduate counterpart, but far less likely to vote – has become a target of more concentrated campaign efforts in recent years as candidates come to realize its ability to provide a voting bloc. This year, graduate student involvement in the SA tops the platforms of most president and executive vice president candidates, including Abby Bergren, John Bennett, Ashwin Narla, Austin Brewster and Jeremy Iloulian.
During last year’s runoff election, in which just 34 votes separated the top two candidates, the law school voted overwhelmingly in favor of John Richardson, now SA president, with 217 votes to Chris Clark’s 14. In the 2007 runoff election, winning candidate Nicole Capp amassed about 300 more graduate votes than her competitor. Since Capp, no candidate has assumed the presidency without clinching the SBA endorsement.
“We know the law school votes and votes big. But the only reason we know that is because they’re the only ones that’s separate,” Jason Lifton, an alumnus and two-time SA leader, said. Because of the school’s different format for e-mail addresses, its ballots continue to be counted apart from the rest of the voting pool.
When he successfully ran for executive vice president in 2009 and president in 2010, Lifton said he worked to bring graduate students on his side because they didn’t always know who to vote for.
“The people who plan on voting know who they’re going to vote for,” Lifton said. “It’s the people who don’t plan on voting that you need to find and track down and convince them that you are the person they should vote for.”
Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller said while the graduate vote is not impressive in terms of turnout, the bloc is attractive because of “the concept that every single vote will go the same way” – a pattern that he said doesn’t appear as often in undergraduate votes.
“I think if any candidate was to ignore the undergraduate vote, they do so at their peril,” Miller said. “When you look at the sheer number of total votes that come in, most votes aren’t graduate. It’s the ‘SA president,’ not the ‘undergraduate SA president’ or the ‘graduate SA president.’ ”
In the weeks leading up to this year’s election, presidential candidate and SA Finance Committee Chair John Bennett vocalized plans to revamp funding policies to be more favorable for graduate student organizations – a move many regarded as a bid to rake in graduate votes.
The Student Bar Association endorsed Bennett, Nick Nickic, president of the Student Bar Association said, after working closely with him during this year’s appeals process following initial SA allocations.
“John Bennett is rightfully trying to win graduate votes because he’s running for [an] office that represents graduate students,” Nickic said. “If I were John, and my campaign wasn’t strategically trying to win graduate votes, I would fire my campaign manager.”
Miller likewise advised candidates to campaign broadly because the “huge bloc of just the random unconnected student” tends to represent one-third of the voting population each year. Name recognition on campus, he said, was key to garnering votes – sometimes trumping platforms.
“You have people who might vote by school, people who might vote by the organization, people who might vote by any different number of things,” he said. “I wonder honestly every single year how people are going to vote.”