University of Iowa undergraduate student government election goes online

After the University of Iowa moved classes online, student leaders announced their candidacies to represent the UI student body. This spring will also be the first elections since bylaw changes were passed to make running for student government more accessible.



Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

Amid an upheaval of campus life, University of Iowa students announced their candidacies Sunday to be the undergraduate student body’s representatives for the 2020-2021 academic year.

As students move out of the residence halls this week, and campus continues to empty, candidates will navigate the week-long campaign season with new election rules and a remote student body.

An executive ticket, two senatorial tickets, four independent senators, and constituency senators will campaign online, nearly all unopposed, in the UI’s Undergraduate Student Government, formerly known as UISG, elections this week.

Voting begins online March 30, the first day online classes are supposed to begin for the UI, and ends April 3.

In light of the novel-coronavirus outbreak and the UI moving classes online, there will be modifications to the voting process of the Undergraduate Student Government election, said USG Student Elections Commissioner Cameron Moeller, in an email to The Daily Iowan.

“All campaigning will be conducted online through social media and the [USG] website,” Moeller said. “All voting will be held online as well. While voting for executives and at-large senators has previously been online, constituency elections, which were previously held in-person, will be online for the first time.”

These changes also mean candidates won’t be able to host campaign kickoff events or in-person debates for candidates.

This, however, is not holding back Connor Wooff, who is running unopposed for USG president for the 2020-2021 academic year election. Wooff said that he and his running mate, Mara Smith, will host Instagram-Lives to continue fostering communication between UI students and those vying to represent them.

“We’re going to try and engage people as much as we can and the only way we can do that is through social media right now,” he said. “One thing I don’t like about this uncharted territory is that I don’t get to interact with students as much during this period. Students won’t be able to come and talk to me about what they care about.”

Wooff said the online shift could mean more students would have time to engage in the student-government election.

“I think the move online may increase the number of students who vote because there are a lot of students sitting at home who are on their phone and social media,” Wooff said.

Former USG Senator Teagan Roeder said in an email to the DI that the lack of students on campus will impact the elections in a potentially negative way.

“I would not be surprised that this year in particular will suffer low turnout in the midst of what is likely to be the most severe crisis of our youth,” he said. “This is completely unprecedented in the entirety of [USG] history and, by extension, University of Iowa history to have [the] school closed in the fashion that it is.”

As previously reported by the DI, USG passed election reform bills in December that changed the way the campaign cycle will function. The student government’s elections will now consist of two separate tickets with one representing the candidates for USG president and vice president and one focused solely on senators.

Related: University of Iowa Student Government override’s president’s veto for election code reforms

Wooff and Smith’s executive ticket is uncontested this year, something that Wooff said he didn’t expect when he decided to run.

“I thought there would be one or two other [tickets],” he said. “It makes the campaign a little different this year because … pretty much everyone running, as long as they meet the threshold of votes needed, will be a part of USG next year.”

After the campaigns were publicly announced at 8 p.m. Sunday night, Wooff said that their campaign is ready to hit the ground running as though they’re competing against another ticket.

“Mara and I agree that we want to run this election like it’s contested,” he said. “The importance of us running an aggressive campaign is [so] that students know who we are as leaders and are able to see what we want to do and be able to give us feedback.”

There are two senatorial tickets vying for 30 seats. The Connect Iowa ticket is made up of four undergraduate students, including current USG Health and Safety Committee Chair Shalini Birari, who is the only current USG member on the ticket.

Impact Iowa, the second senatorial ticket in the 2020-2021 election, consists of 13 candidates. The ticket includes nine current USG senators vying for reelection.

Four UI students are running independently, including current USG senator Joycelyn Jorbedom, and fellow UI students Sire Abram, Joshua Brown, and Yara Moustafa.

The 2020 Constituency Candidates are all running unopposed, except for the Latinx senatorial position, where there is no candidate currently in the running.

The Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Constituency candidate is Kaitlin Soriano, a third-year student at the UI who is not currently a USG senator. Current USG Senator Adeline Barron is running for the Black Constituency senator position that she currently holds. USG Senator Claire Miller is running reelection for the Disability Constituency senator position. Current at-large USG Senator Joseph Haggerty is running for the LGBTQ+ Constituency Senator for the next academic year. UI student Shimin Park is running to hold the seat of International Constituency Senator.

Regardless of the current circumstances on the UI’s campus, Wooff said he intends to utilize his experiences as the current Director of Governmental Relations for USG, a resident assistant, a member of student organizations, and an orientation leader, to serve UI undergraduate students across campus.

“My positions have given me a really good picture of what students experience on this campus and how we can make the university a better place for all of us,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of experience advocating for students and I know how to get things done on campus. I’ve represented the student body. I feel that all of these experiences have given me a toolbox to lead campus next year. That’s why I decided to run.”