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Saturday, March 23, 2019

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SGA election sees lower voter turnout, victory by Students Unite


Allison Lawrence and her running-mate, Maysarah Kazia, swept the 2019 SGA election. They received more votes than the other two other presidential candidates, Claude Johnson and Moiz Syed, combined. | Corbin Ayers/The Cougar

The 2019 Student Government Association election was a tumultuous race that came to a close Thursday with a victory by Student Unite’s Allison Lawrence and her running-mate Maysarah Kazia.

Lawrence secured more than 1,700 votes, and her party won the majority of the Senate seats for the incoming 56th Administration. Coogs Unite’s Moiz Syed and EVERY COOG’s Claude Johnson split the rest of the votes at 835 and 792, respectively, according to results published by the UH SGA Election Commission. 

“It was a really long seven months,” Lawrence said to The Cougar moments after the announcement. “I’m really excited to get started on my initiatives.”

Lacking information

This election cycle introduced the new ranked voting system of Get Involved, in addition to a longer voting period. There was also an emphasis on marketing by the Election Commission, though many students reported still feeling uninformed about the election.

“Honestly, most people I know don’t know about the election because I feel it’s close to the middle of the semester when people are stressing the most about classes,” said public relations junior Mackenzie Spadoni. “The more stressed a person is about doing well in class, the less a person wants to learn about student elections, when it really has nothing to do with them.”

This was a recurring theme. Many student either opted not to vote, or voted while feeling uninformed about the candidates. A number of students pointed to a lack of obvious social media presence during the campaigns.

“I feel as though not every candidate did their job in the PR department. Perhaps they didn’t use all their resources to spread the word,” said public relations sophomore Priscilla Adejokun. “They might have used outlets such as social media, but they never reached me.”

Some who kept up with the process, however, saw improvement over previous years in getting the word out.

Procedural changes

There was a new voting system that allowed students to rank each candidate. The success of this method yielded varying degrees of confidence from the SGA.

“The voter turnout was lower than last year, but I expected it due to the change in the voting procedures and change in the voting time frame,” said Speaker of the Senate Kim-Briana Lorine. “I expected that there would be some kind of voter fatigue going on, and that may have been the situation.” 

Lorine said she would not change the whole process but focus on making the Senate elections more streamlined.

Voter turnout was a multifaceted issue,” said SGA President Cameron Barrett, who was newly elected as a graduate at-large senator for the 56th Administration. “There were less candidates. It rained every day of voting. Since campaigning wasn’t allowed in dining halls or the library/SCs the last couple days, that hurt turnout as well.”

Barrett said the new voting system was designed to be fair, and it accomplished that by avoiding complete sweeps by one party. Lorine also said it was intended to avoid runoff elections, which would hurt turnout exponentially.

Complaints, controversies

There were, however, surprises when the results came out. The EVERY COOG Party was able to secure sizable wins in the election despite its small numbers.

“We were running five members for four different position tickets, and we got three of those four. This is going a long way to creating the diversity in the student government,” Johnson said. “While I am disappointed I did not get the presidency, Allison is a strong candidate whom I can definitely support.” 

Barrett commended Johnson for being approachable and creative in engaging with possible voters in fraternities and through social media.

The Coogs Unite Party secured a sizable presence in the Senate, despite numerous controversies during the campaign.

“Unfortunately we didn’t win, but I am glad that my senators got elected,” Syed said. “There were a lot of politics involved but then again, that’s expected. I just hope that everyone will be able to properly represent the students.”

His party experienced a number of complaints and campaign bans, including one case against the Election Commission, regarding the commissioner’s failure to appoint a chief investigator as stipulated in the newly revised Election Code, that went to the SGA Supreme Court.

There is always a good amount of complaints,” said Chief Justice Kate Dentler. “Although there hasn’t been a hearing in two years, so yes it’s a big deal.”

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Election Commissioner Bo Harricharran’s favor, though it granted a time period for Coogs Unite to appeal complaints the party felt resulted in punishment as a result of the missing investigator. No such complaints were reversed as a result.

In the days prior to voting, tweets that were construed as homophobic and racist resurfaced from the party’s vice-presidential candidate, Nader Irsan.

These tweets became a focal point of the vice-presidential race during the Feb. 18 debate in the Student Center South Theater.

“In terms of Nader’s tweets, I acknowledge that they were a mistake. He has personally accepted fault. He made those tweets when he was much younger and didn’t understand the weight his words can have on others,” Syed said. “However, I think we should stop delving into the past and focus on what we can do in the present for the students.”

Both Syed and other members of SGA believe the tweets hurt Coogs Unite’s chances, though the president and speaker saw merit in the recency of the social media statements.

Coogs Unite maintained there was bias involved in the election.

This was my first election. As for what can be improved in the future, I think above board politics needs some improvement,” Irsan said.

Looking forward, each party is hopeful they can work together on common issues under Lawrence’s presidency. 

“I’m really happy for Allison and Maysarah,” Barrett said. “I have a lot of confidence in them.”

Lawrence, Kazia and Harricharran could not be reached for comment on this story.

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