After planning to announce the awaited results of last week’s election via a Facebook Live announcement, Northwest Student Senate introduced the elected representatives of the University’s 98th Student Senate in a Twitter thread April 28, with Kirayle Jones, who ran unopposed, becoming the first African American man to win the organization’s executive presidency.
Joining Jones, a junior who served as the vice president in the 97th Student Senate, on the organization’s executive board is Vice President Debrielle Patee-Merril, a fifth-year senior, and sophomores Treasurer Connor Thompson and Secretary Bailey Hendrickson, all of whom ran unopposed together on one ticket called “Elevate.”
“I never thought I’d actually be sitting in this situation,” Jones said three weeks ago in a Zoom call, reflecting on the uncontested nature of the election and his imminent victory. “I don’t know — I’m blessed. I’m blessed. That is a good word to describe it.”
The election, which garnered 406 votes, featured a five-day-long voting period for students April 20-24, which followed a two-week online campaigning period April 6-17, with candidates limited due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that left the University closed and the Senate working remotely. In last April’s vote, which saw the election of Asma Hassan as Student Senate’s 97th president, 633 students cast ballots.
For the most part, the decrease in voter turnout was expected among members of the newly-elected executive board, though they each were hopeful for an improved turnout in the weeks before the election. Jones, Hendrickson, Thompson and Election Commissioner Gena Cockrell all said they were concerned about the potential for a low showing, though Hendrickson said she expected a “decent” turnout and Patee-Merril said she thought the COVID-19 restrictions might actually result in a higher turnout among voters.
“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 two weeks before the election, which took place electronically. “So taking two seconds out of your day to vote, I think, is a little more accessible than in the past.”
Instead, Student Senate saw 227 viewer voters in this election cycle, a 36% decrease from last year’s total. In all, the 406 votes cast represent 5.72% of Northwest’s student population, based on 2019 fall enrollment data.
“Huge bummer!” Jones said in an email, referring to the decreased voter turnout, but added, “Everyone from the lower ballot was able to receive a position either as class senator or campus representative.”
Amid a low voter turnout, Student Senate struggled to completely fill some representative positions. Sydney Lowe and Lexi Van Winkle were elected as on-campus representatives for the 98th Student Senate, with three on-campus representative positions going unfilled. Brady Fritts, Robert Hutton, Peytan Schulte, Rylie Johnson and Ben Hayen were elected as off-campus representatives out of a field of seven candidates.
Hunter Granthan, Annie Punt and Madi Cobb were elected as the sophomore, junior and senior class presidents, respectively. Jenna Lee-Johnson, Brooklyn Nordhues, Sydney Looney will serve as sophomore representatives while Peyton Young, Chloe Kallhoff and Joseph Etheridge fill the roles of junior class reps. Representing the senior class, Cobb will be joined by Grace McCarty, Sneha Ojha and Cory Wahlbrink.
On the heels of its election, Northwest’s 98th Student Senate is left to navigate a path forward amid a pandemic with uncertainty looming, even with the fall term still three months away. The unfilling election left Student Senate’s executive board with its first task to tackle in the upcoming semester.
“We were not able to fill three on-campus positions this year, during election season, so that is one of my first initiatives for the fall,” Jones said.