Bennett, Narla to face off in second election

Candidates for the Student Association’s presidential post are stepping up their outreach efforts to student organizations after none of the five hopefuls got the votes needed to clinch the election last week.

With 130 votes separating the top two candidates, juniors John Bennett and Ashwin Narla will now face each other in a runoff election from Feb. 29 to March 1.

The results were announced live Thursday to an auditorium packed with supporters, who sported matching T-shirts and roared as the next matchup was declared.

Francis Rivera | Assistant Photo Editor
John Bennett, a presidential contender, braces for a runoff after missing the straight win by 4 percentage points.

Bennett, the only candidate coming from within the Student Association, fell just 4 percentage points short of the 40 percent voting threshold needed to secure the election. He has lined up speaking time with more than 16 organizations that he had not reached out to during the first round of voting, including 13 Greek chapters chosen because of their “cohesiveness” and tendency to vote in blocs.

“If you win over their heart and mind, you can probably count on a good portion of their membership,” Bennett said.

Bennett said he will continue his campaign strategy of on-the-street efforts distributing palm cards and visiting campus groups, because it helped him to collect the highest vote count – 1748 votes – in the first race.

“[My strategy] seemed to work. It was close, but we did get the most votes,” Bennett said.

Michael Boosalis | Hatchet Photographer
Joshua Star cheers for freshman Michael Morgan, who secured an undergraduate senate seat.

Throughout the first leg of the campaign, Bennett pledged to tackle misuse of the 4-RIDE system and refurnish Columbian Square to make it more attractive to students.

“We have to get face time with the now-undecided,” Bennett, chair of the SA Senate finance committee, said.

Narla, a junior with no prior SA experience, said he was excited to be in the runoff, and said his team plans to charge forward with the same intensity as they had in the general election.

“It’s gonna be another week of no sleep, but it’ll be fun,” Narla said. His platform was largely centered on opening student space and helping student organizations better utilize their budgets.

Narla said his strategy this week focuses on voter turnout – a problem consistently plaguing past runoff elections.

He said his 20-member team will canvass Kogan Plaza throughout the week to make students aware of the election, passing out palm cards with information about Narla.

Since Thursday, Narla said he has sent out 40 to 50 e-mails to student organizations asking to speak with each group and pitch his platform.

“During the general elections, it’s the first time they’re seeing me and I’m more brief about my platform. Now, I’m explaining more of my ideas in detail and what I want to do next,” Narla said.

During a runoff election, candidates are permitted to spend up to an additional $250 campaigning. In past years, efforts to attract voters during runoffs have been subdued compared to the general election, consisting of less palm carding, postering and “dorm-storming” than the earlier round.

The two beat out their three competitors in the presidential pool – Jeremy Iloulian, Will Thompson and Benjamin Pincus – by a more-than 20-point margin.

In a tight race between two competitive Student Association executive vice president candidates, Abby Bergren emerged as the winner with 45 percent of votes when results were announced Thursday night.

Ben Leighton, chair of the Student Dining Board, received 39 percent of votes, just 282 ballots short of Bergren. Austin Brewster earned 16 percent of the vote.

Bergren, who ran on a platform of bridging the gap between the SA executive and the senate, said she plans to get started on other ideas, such as expanding fee reduction efforts, after next week’s runoff. Once the top leader is chosen, Bergren said she wants the executive team to meet with the newly elected senators to “get everyone on the same page.”

“I don’t want to have two separate agendas between the executive body and the senators,” she said.

She has already started to contact former executive vice presidents and University administrators to introduce herself and vet her ideas for the upcoming year.

Bergren’s top competitor, Leighton, secured the support of nearly two-dozen student organizations while campaigning for the second-in-command post. Though his competitor collected about half as many endorsements, Leighton pointed out that Bergren won the support of the Student Bar Association – known for its tendency to vote in a bloc.

“If I could go back, I would’ve went deeper into my platforms and fleshed them out before I met with the [Student Bar Association],” Leighton said. “I thought we had a chance, but I knew it was kind of a long shot.”

This year’s election also saw record participation among voters, up 15 percent from the previous year. The 4,806 students who voted this year trumped last year’s turnout by more than 600 votes.

The Joint Elections Committee, a group of students appointed to oversee the election, identified voter turnout as a priority in January.

“We didn’t hide in our office this year,” JEC chair and former SA presidential candidate Phil Gardner said, explaining that the boost came from the committee’s active communication with candidates and students.

The committee extended voting hours, added about eight additional “dorm-storming” hours and created a website explaining each candidates’ platforms.

Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller, who has overseen SA elections at GW for a decade, was impressed by this year’s “huge” voter turnout – double what he has seen in past years.

“It shows students cared about this election, which doesn’t always happen,” he said.

Kaya Yurieff contributed to this report

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