Stationed in different cities across two states, four members of Northwest’s Student Senate launched a campaign for the senate’s executive positions April 6, running as a ticket under the slogan “Elevate” for the April 13-17 election.
Junior Kirayle Jones, who served as the vice president for the 97th Student Senate this school year, is heading the ticket, running to replace senior Asma Hassan as president. Senior Debrielle Patee-Merril, entering her fifth year on the heels of a term as executive treasurer, is campaigning to replace Jones as vice president.
Joining Jones and Patee-Merril are sophomores Bailey Hendrickson and Connor Thompson, running for secretary and treasurer, respectively. Together, the four came up with their ticket’s “Elevate” slogan over a series of Zoom calls and group chats, all once again living with their parents in different cities across the region, forced home by COVID-19 and Northwest’s closure.
After a change in Student Senate’s campaigning policy from last year, the ticket will have two weeks, instead of one, to campaign for an election they cannot lose. All four senators are running unopposed.
“Without us having opponents, we’re not really sure how much we should campaign,” Thompson said in a Zoom call from his bedroom in Liberty, Missouri. “We know what we should be focusing more on the future of what we want to do rather than focus on campaigning.”
Each of the ticket’s four members, who are less than two weeks away from being voted in as the executive board of Northwest’s 98th Student Senate, expressed an array of mixed feelings about running an election unopposed.
Thompson, a political science major who served this year as the Organization Affairs vice-chair, lamented the lack of student involvement in the democratic process but said he was looking forward to his imminent term as treasurer. Jones said he wasn’t sure if he was excited or not. Hendrickson, the Organization Affairs chair, said the news came as a relief but wishes there was competition. Patee-Merril, who ran opposed last year, said this election feels different.
“I don’t want to say the thrill’s not there because it is really exciting; the prospect that our whole ticket will be the executive board,” Patee-Merril said in a Zoom call from her parents’ Maryville home. “But I really, truly wish there was another ticket.”
While the ticket’s four members were generally united on the prospect of running unopposed, they had differing thoughts on what that, coupled with the difficulties of running a campaign remotely, might mean for voter turnout. Additionally, a few lower-ballot positions could remain unfilled with what Election Commissioner Gena Cockrell described as a “relatively low number of people running.”
Before and after last year’s elections, Student Senate, at times, struggled to fill positions and recruit new members. After the election of the 97th Student Senate last April, five on-campus representative positions remained vacant and had to be filled during the last meeting of the spring semester and the first meeting of the following fall semester.
When Hassan, Jones, Patee-Merril and secretary Abha Niraula won the 97th Senate’s executive positions a year ago, the ticket did so earning a majority of the 633 votes cast in the election but had the advantage of campaigning on a campus full of students. It’s unclear what that might mean for this year’s turnout, though Jones, Cockrell and Thompson all said they were concerned about the potential for a low showing.
“It is much easier to spread the word to get out and vote when we are seeing the students face-to-face every day,” Cockrell said in an email. “I worry that people will not see the announcements over social media and lose track of time, as I know I have been these days.”
Hendrickson said she expected a “decent” turnout among voters, but that it likely wouldn’t be as high as it was in previous years. Patee-Merril, straying from the views of the rest of Northwest’s next executive board, said the remote setting for the upcoming election might prompt an increase in turnout.
“I actually think we might see an uptick in voter turnout because everyone is on their computer and their phone almost all day long,” Patee-Merril said of the election, which takes place electronically. “So taking two seconds out of your day to vote, I think, is a little more accessible than in the past.”
The voter turnout concerns have highlighted the complications that come with executing an entire campaign and election remotely, leaving the executive ticket limited in how it moves forward.
The ticket has utilized social media, of course, creating an Instagram account and launching a Facebook page to help promote their cause. They’re trying to set up Zoom meetings, Thompson said, to have face-to-face meetings with campus organizations over the next few weeks. But they fear the online campaigning might be less effective in getting across their message.
“It’s obviously difficult,” Hendrickson said in a Zoom call from Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “Social media is the best we can do.”
In some ways, campaigning remotely is the first obstacle the 98th Senate executive board is facing, nearly two full weeks before the April 21 election results announcement. The ticket’s slogan, “Elevate,” revolves around the group’s desire to continue to improve and build on the work of the 98th Senate.
Thompson said he hopes for more transparency from the senate over the next year. Hendrickson said the ticket simply wants Student Senate to be better than it is right now. Patee-Merril said the slogan means there’s more work to be done, work that starts with campaigning for an election without meeting any voters.
“I am always up for the challenge,” Jones said in a Zoom call from Omaha, Nebraska. “I’m always ready to go. And even though we are unopposed, I’m still ready to go. I’m still ready to tell people this is what I stand for.”