Debate: Online Campaigning

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Walking around the Marist campus as recently as a few weeks ago, it was easy to see that student government elections were underway.  Flyers were pinned to almost every bulletin board, students wore colorful shirts with candidates’ names in large, bold letters, and candidates were frantically circulating petition documents in order to get on the ballot.

With all of this campaign activity going on in the real world, it was glaringly obvious that campaign activity was missing in the virtual world – namely, on the internet and social media.

This was no coincidence.  The SGA campaign regulation document given to all potential candidates specifically states, “Any form of online campaigning is forbidden (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Foxmail/E-mail, Blogs, etc).”  This, however, is the extent of the regulation.  No further specifications or reasoning is given for this rule.

At the pre-election meeting, potential candidates were told that any candidacy-related status updates or posts by anyone – even if it was not someone involved with the campaign – were not allowed.  Even if, for instance, a candidate’s friend posted a picture in which one person in the photo was wearing a campaign T-shirt, the person whose name appeared on that shirt could be disqualified from the race.

This, of course, begs the question: why?  All voting for the elections ultimately takes place online.  National, state, and local political candidates campaign online.  Other colleges allow for online campaigning. So why not Marist?

Brian Gelok, Vice President of Club Affairs and President-elect DiBlasi’s running-mate, is a staunch opponent of online campaigning and gives us this explanation for his position:

”I am against the use of online campaigning, and I say this for several reasons.  The first is that it takes away from the personal aspect of the election. I believe that forcing the candidates to go and meet the students is the first step SGA takes in getting to know the issues. It forces them to go and ask people their beliefs and concerns.  If we have online campaigning, I believe that this will change.”

He then told me the story of his brother, who was the student body president at Siena College.  According to Gelok, his brother was allowed to use social media in his campaign and, therefore, did not have to go door to door.  He said that due to this, his brother did not get to know nearly the number of students that Marist student body presidents know.  He continued:

“Another reason is the internet takes away any fairness aspect in the election. For example, I know individuals who are administrators for the Marist College class of 2014 and 2015 Facebook groups. I can easily gain access to that and have 50% of the school before any other candidate can walk out of the office.”

Despite this Gelok predicts that some day SGA will implement online campaigning.

Deborah Akinwunmi, president of the class of 2014, disagress with Gelok.  While she understands the concerns, she feels that campaigns are missing out on a major resource without using the internet and social media.

“…I feel that this is something that will eventually happen and if we properly regulate candidates’ use of the internet, it can be a great source for us and also a great way for us to get more voter turnout.  In addition, I personally feel that to an extent we are limited in campaigning because we are not allowed to use these amazing resources such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.  I also feel that through precedence we can set the stage for future SGA election candidates to do both.”

What do you think about this? Would you feel better informed as a voter if you could get information about the candidate’s online?  Or do you prefer face-to-face interaction?  Get in on the debate by commenting here, on Twitter (@SGAinProgress), or sending me an e-mail.  I will be sure to follow up with those in SGA and ask them some of your questions.

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2 Responses to Debate: Online Campaigning

  1. Dan M says:

    Gelok’s thinking is very backwards on this topic. His point seems to be that by allowing online campaigning Marist SGA elections would become less personal and unfair for all candidates. There are several reasons this is not true.

    The Internet is the great equalizer. If you want to run for Marist Student Body President, all you need are some signatures, punctuality and a winning personality, right? Wrong! It seems to me that in order to be competitive candidate you need to spend Money on t-shirts, posters, candy, etc. Not very accessible. And going door to door? I’ve never been visited by a SGA candidate. Setting my profile picture to Andrew Paulsen in a cape costs me nothing.

    People seem to think that any ounce of technology introduces instant “dehumanization” whether it be in the classroom, in the office or in politics. The *opposite* is often true. Technology in the classroom gives a teacher more time to spend with students rather than giving a one-size-fits-all lecture to a room of 30. Business meetings can now be held over Skype instead of purchasing a cross-atlantic plane ticket. And politicians can reach a much broader audience than they could 50 or 100 years ago.

    And that’s what I think the “killer app” for online campaigning is. Wouldn’t it be great if each candidate had an online forum where they could field questions? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to engage a majority of the student body on big ticket campaign issues such as club affairs, intramural sports, and parking? The goal of a governmental system (well, a reasonably democratic one at least) is to get people involved in the governmental process. That’s the goal of SGA, and SGA often cites the lack of student involvement as a problem (I have heard this).

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too SGA. If you want student involvement then amend those campaigning rules. Until then I’ll be here on Facebook waiting.

  2. Caitlin says:

    It also just seems very backwards that SGA is concerned about voter turnout, and all voting is done online (which could be unfair in and of itself), but no e-campaigning is allowed.

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