Elections to select the next president and vice president of the Associated Students of UNM are fast approaching, and for the first time in at least 12 years, the undergraduate student population will have their pick of four candidates at each position to represent them.
Monday was the deadline for students to officially file for candidacy, and besides the slightly higher number of prospective ASUNM leaders, there is also a wealth of experience across the board.
Among those running for 2017-18 ASUNM president: Sen. Noah Brooks, Sen. Elena Garcia, former senator and current Lobo Spirit Executive Director Justin Cooper, and ASUNM Communications Director Gabe Gallegos.
Each of the candidates for ASUNM president has a running mate they are teaming up with. In order of those listed above, they are: former ASUNM Sen. Sally Midani, Sen. Jonathan Sanchez, Sen. Michael Landgraf, and Senator and Outreach & Appointments Committee Chair Sydnie O’Connell.
Keith Blumenfeld, executive director of the ASUNM Elections Commission, said he believes the number of candidates represents the passion that members of ASUNM have for helping the student body succeed.
He said he also believes the amount of candidates will lead to more aggressive campaigning, and hopefully, high voter turnout.
“I imagine that they will all try to reach out to the 90 percent of undergraduates who don’t vote in our student government elections,” Blumenfeld said.
The upcoming elections mark just the third time since 2010 that there are more than two vice presidential candidates. In 2015 and 2011 a lone student ran for the seat.
There’s been a slightly higher number of students running for ASUNM president over that same span, with either two or three candidates every year since 2006.
Current ASUNM President Kyle Biederwolf, in the second semester of his tenure, said that he is inspired by the amount of students who have decided to run this year.
“Whoever wins the elections, our campus is going to be engaged like never before by this process,” he said. “Student representation is important, and I encourage all students to think carefully about who they want leading ASUNM next year.”
Changes to election structure
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Officials are also hoping that a tweak to the election system draws more students to the polls. In the fall ASUNM voted to separate presidential and vice presidential elections from senatorial elections, an initiative that was later approved by UNM regents.
Brooks and Midani – running mates this year – authored that legislation. They said at the time that similar practices at other universities have led to increased voter turnout, which has been stagnant in recent semesters.
Only twice since the spring of 2009 have at least 2,000 students cast ballots in ASUNM elections – in the spring of 2014, when 2,303 students voted, and the spring of 2010, when 2,115 made it to the polls. Voter turnout hit a drastic low in the fall of 2014, when 694 students cast ballots. That year also featured a decidedly lower number of candidates running for ASUNM Senate (15), compared to an average of 24 senators in every other semester since the 2010 fall elections.
Brooks also said last fall that separating the elections puts candidates on “more of an even playing field,” as they won’t be connected to slates of senatorial candidates – and their potential outreach advantages.
Another change to election rules has to do with spending. In the fall, the Senate voted to lower the cap for campaign spending to $250, the same cap placed on senatorial candidates.
“One of the reasons this was done was for the express purpose of opening up those positions to more people who may not have been able to raise the $350 or $450 individually, and been discouraged from running for financial reasons,” Blumenfeld said.
Elections for the next president and vice president of ASUNM will be held March 29, with early voting taking place March 23. Senatorial elections will take place three weeks after.
David Lynch is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.