Campaign week for the Student Government (SG) general election has officially started, and while the pandemic will shift many features and events online, most election procedures will only be slightly affected.
As a result of the pandemic, most campaigning will be virtual. Candidates can still chalk and put up posters and signages around campus, however, SG Supervisor of Elections Shemar Mckoy said they cannot gather in groups nor organize events, in accordance with university guidelines and protocols to mitigate the risks of spreading COVID-19.
To place yard signages around campus, students must seek approval from the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE). Each ticket is limited to advertising with one sign across three locations determined by the CLCE, according to Mckoy.
All candidates will also be able to advertise their candidacy on all Facebook class groups as a way to reach a broader number of voters. In previous years, students weren’t able to use platforms categorized as “student resources” to campaign. If candidates did use them they would’ve been disqualified.
“So one of the things we identified [was] … looking at social media that would provide a level playing field for all candidates because [SG’s] concern was providing an advantage to one candidate over another,” Mckoy said.
“What we did was look at groups that are ‘free access,’ meaning that once you’re a USF student, you have the potential to market your campaign with those mediums, and we have been taking the advice [of] the SG advising office and ensuring that the principles of the overall elections align with our decision.”
Mckoy said all posts will be reviewed on a weekly basis by SG prior to being posted on each Facebook group. While the change in policy only includes Facebook, Mckoy said SG plans on evaluating other student resources accounts on other social media platforms, including Instagram.
“[Campaigning] is limited to Facebook for now, but I can confirm that we will be expanding to Instagram because we are cognizant of the fact that students are more familiar with that medium,” Mckoy said. “So definitely my team and I are reviewing some USF Instagram pages.”
Students will get to cast their votes from March 8-11 virtually. A link will be shared across all of SG’s social media platforms to access the voting website. Students will need to log in with their USF Net ID and password to vote.
Mckoy said the link will also be shared on LCD screens across campuses as well as on SG’s website and MyUSF’s home page under the student features section. SG is also planning to place yard signs across campuses containing QR codes to redirect students to the voting website.
The unofficial election results will be announced March 12. The elections committee will then evaluate whether the winning tickets and candidates have any pending grievances against them to release the official results around 48 hours after voting ends.
In previous years, SG would announce to all candidates the election results in the Senate chambers. This year, due to COVID-19 concerns, the event will most likely be held virtually, however, no plans are set in stone, according to Mckoy.
“If that’s something that candidates do look forward to and seeing that all the positions on the Tampa campus will be contested, especially for the ticketed positions, I think it would be in the students’ best interest and Student Government’s best interest for us to have something created which allows us to announce the election,” Mckoy said.
With three tickets running for the coveted student body president and vice president seats, Mckoy said the chances of having a runoff election are high. If there’s a runoff election, it will take place March 16-17.
“We have three tickets this year so it does increase the likelihood of us having a runoff election so I do want to point out that in the event that we do have runoff elections, I am not allowed to certify the tickets that will be contested in the runoff elections until that has been completed.”
To avoid a runoff election, Mckoy said the winning ticket must receive 10% or more votes than the second-place ticket. All elections, including runoffs, must be concluded by March 31.
All three presidential and vice presidential tickets will face their opponents during a virtual debate hosted by SG. The debate, moderated by The Oracle, The Crow’s Nest and a representative from the Sarasota-Manatee campus, will take place Feb. 25 from 6-9:30 p.m. via Microsoft Teams.
There will also be a debate for the governor and lieutenant governor tickets at the Tampa campus Feb. 18 from 6-8 p.m. The debate will be moderated by The Oracle through Microsoft Teams. For both debates, each pair will have 90 seconds to respond to each question.
Both the St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee campuses will not host any debates since both tickets are uncontested. Instead of a debate, they will be given an outlet to answer questions about their campaign and what initiatives they intend to implement during their term.
As an incentive to attend the event, SG will be distributing either an Amazon Fire TV Stick or a daily parking pass to the first 35 students in attendance at the presidential and vice presidential debate and 25 at the Tampa governor and lieutenant governor debate.
To win the prizes, however, students will need to meet certain criteria established by SG.
“We are thinking of implementing a condition. Let’s say you have to stay on the call for 30 minutes so we are going to include in our advertisement that conditions do apply,” Mckoy said. “I’m going to say a minimum of 30 minutes will be required for attendees to stay on the call simply because we do want to ensure that the Q&A feature that we are trying to incorporate this year is utilized.”
The last 15 minutes of each debate will be dedicated to addressing any questions asked by students in the Microsoft Teams chat.