UA elections see low voter turnout

Joke & write-in candidates among elected; run-offs planned

The biannual whirlwind of Undergraduate Association elections has passed, leaving a Senate-elect consisting of dedicated students, a Pokémon, a risqué historical figure, a feline, and several seats still to be determined by run-off elections.

Eighteen percent of MIT students voted this fall, slightly lower than the average, which UA Elections Commissioner Daniel D. Hawkins ’12 estimated is in the low 20s. There were also fewer official candidates this year, which caused an increase in write-ins. Hawkins said the decline in official candidates could be due to a lack of publicity or scheduling conflicts. “We had to schedule the candidates’ meeting during the freshman trip to the aquarium,” he noted.

Why did only 816 of 4452 undergraduates vote? “It might indicate that students don’t have much faith in the [UA]. They don’t associate a lot of value with it,” said Hawkins. The UA Restructuring Committee, noted Hawkins, might propose changes which could fix a “lack of faith” in the UA among students.

Students may have noticed an increase in joke winners this year, such as Leopold the Cat — who was elected to represent off-campus students — and Pikachu and Totoro, who were elected to represent New House. Naked Abe Lincoln, a former UA senator who represented Bexley last fall (and in years prior), returned this year to win seats in Simmons and Bexley. Hawkins said that in cases where the winner is not an MIT student, the position goes to the student with the next highest number of votes. He added that “usually the winners that are not actual people are not published,” and the number of joke candidates is about the same as in past years.

Joke candidates were published this year, said Hawkins, “because I decided not to cover them up.”

Five Senate seats currently remain empty and must be filled by run-off elections. Simmons, New House, and McCormick all have an empty seat and two of the fraternity seats must also be filled. Candidates involved in a tie have been contacted and must decide whether or not they will participate in a run-off election.

Off-campus residents reported trouble voting online last week. This is due to the system the UA uses to identify students’ residences; off-campus students appear to the voting system as having an unknown location, which prevents them from being able to vote. In order to fix this, they would have needed to email the UA Elections Commission. Hawkins said, “It’s not ideal, obviously, but it’s the best we can do.”

The campaign trail

Bruno B. F. Faviero ’15 — write-in winner of Class of 2015 Social Chair (also a Tech copy editor) — says he ran in order to “make this semester more exciting for freshmen,” but had to run as a write-in candidate because he missed the deadline for registration. Some of his event ideas for this semester include a Halloween Carnival, free hot chocolate, and a yoga/relaxation session in Killian Court. Running as a write-in, Faviero relied on word-of-mouth, emails, and Facebook to campaign.

“Write-in was pretty chaotic because you ended up with five people running last minute and then they’re spamming every available channel online,” he said.

But some freshmen have been annoyed with the amount of campaigning done on Facebook.

“Now I can see why people are promoting Naked Abe Lincoln,” wrote Adam M. Rodriguez ’15 on the Class of 2015’s Facebook page. “This whole ‘write in (insert name here) for (insert position here)’ is getting pretty obnoxious.”

Another write-in winner, Hollie O’Brien ’15, won a Senate seat in Simmons without doing any campaigning. “I didn’t know I was running until I got [elected],” said O’Brien. She attributes her win to friends writing her in on the ballot. Many students “just wrote in [their] friends’ names,” she said. Now that she is Senator, O’Brien plans to have a card game night where she can discuss what Simmons residents want to see from the UA.

In other dorms, the campaign was more competitive. Caroline Shinkle, elected to Maseeh Senate, said she “went to every room in Maseeh to talk with [her] constituents … and get them interested in the elections.” She cited lack of publicity as a problem with the current election process, saying “the election process needs to be advertised more, so people know to vote — know where to vote.” As Senator, she plans to increase awareness of the UA’s actions by holding weekly forums in Maseeh to “brief people on what the UA is doing and to get the thoughts and opinions of others.”

This fall’s elections were a combination of serious campaigning and joking write-ins. Regardless of the spirit in which they were elected, these representatives will govern the MIT student body this semester, minus a few cartoon characters here and there.