Every few years, a group of students attempt to start a Student Government (SG) political party at USF, but staying power has eluded every party that has surfaced.
Popular at other state universities, such as the University of Florida and Florida State University, the party system is often credited for improving voter turnout during SG elections. Yet James Bodden, supervisor of elections for the SG Election Rules Committee (ERC), said USF’s student body elections, are looking to “shatter” last year’s record voter turnout of 6,001 students after recording 3,681 votes on the election’s first day, without parties. UF finished its spring elections with 10,644 voters and FSU ended voting with 6,172.
The last attempt to create a political party at USF was students Matt Smalbach and Michael Miglio’s Green and Gold Party in June. The party’s last Facebook post was from December. In 2005, the Ethos party was formed in an attempt to unite fraternity- and sorority-affiliated voters, but faded less than a year later.
Smalbach and Miglio could not be reached for comment in this article.
If a push came from a student body president or SG Senate president, Bodden said, sufficient support for a party could surface; however, last year’s attempts to create the Green and Gold party were, in general, not taken seriously by SG members.
“It really feels like the whole sentiment throughout all of Student Government – former senators, current senators, I know all of the executive branch administration – it’s sort of like this culture of anti-political parties,” he said.
Bodden said the parties at UF and FSU can breed pettiness, and he does not think a USF political party is on the horizon.
“A lot of people have seen that sort of pettiness trickle down to universities that do have political parties,” he said. “I was reading an article in a Florida newspaper that said at the University of Florida, one of the parties was throwing out newspapers that mentioned the other party, they got caught doing that. At FSU recently, (there was) party feuding where their ERC had to decide the election in the end.”
Juliet Kesilyas, supervisor of elections at FSU, said she is not in favor of political parties on her campus and believes they should be eliminated.
“In the past elections going on, you can sort of see the tensions between the senators because one may agree with one party and the other doesn’t,” she said. “People vote (for) parties just because they hear about them, just because they see the fliers, not particularly because they know what the individual wants to do as a candidate and what changes they want to do to the campus.”
Kesilyas said the political parties at FSU don’t last very long and students often vote for those that “have been around longer,” regardless of their candidate’s platforms.
“They change every three years. Probably two to three elections is the span of them, and then the party falls and a new party is created,” she said.
But Toni Megna, supervisor of elections at UF, said the party system works and is largely based on name recognition. UF has six political parties.
“I think having two parties being so diverse in their viewpoints, someone is going to get something done and overall the students are going to benefit,” she said.
Megna said it would be difficult for the UF Senate to accomplish much without political parties.
“Maybe you’re only being represented by two senators … based on your college, but them alone will not be enough to make a push to get a vote for the other side,” she said. “It’ll be a group effort situation.”
USF SG Sen. Adam Saunders, a senior majoring in political science, said he believes political parties would make running for an elected office in SG less issue-based and would divide people.
“A group of people that are affiliated together in some way will vote together,” he said.
Despite a lack of political parties, Saunders said there are multiple factions within the SG Senate that both divide and unite the student representatives.
“Those kinds of alliances are more transient, they’ll happen over certain issues,” he said. “There are divisions in Senate. There are people who will vote with other people just because those people have brought something to the table.”
Voting for USF’s student body president ends Thursday at 8 p.m.