Close races mark freshman elections

Over half of the Class of 2018 participated in presidential election

7049 elections
infographic by lenny martinez and justine cheng

The Undergraduate Association released the results of the 2018 Class Council elections in an email sent to all freshmen on Friday. The class elected Colin O. Webb ’18 as president and Daysi N. Gomez ’18 as vice president.

The elections saw several close races, according to data provided by the UA. In the preferential voting system used by the UA, students can rank all of the candidates. In elections for four out of the six positions this year, the winners won by 30 or fewer votes, as determined by the preferential system.

In the election for vice president, only five votes out of 533 separated the winner, Gomez, from the runner-up, Nick R. Schwartz ’18. Similarly, with the election for publicity chair, the winning ticket came out only eight votes ahead of the runner-up among 464 voters for that position.

Voter turnout this year was especially high. In the presidential election, 575 students voted. This is 55 percent of the freshman class, compared with 45 percent total voter turnout the year before and 41 percent in 2012. In 2011, only 34 percent of freshmen voted.

Class of 2015 President Joanne Y. Zhou was pleased with the involvement from voters and candidates. “I think there was a lot of energy in these elections,” she said. “I hope that it can sustain through all four years.”

This year saw a few changes in the election process. The week of campaigning was moved further back, which Zhou thinks increased awareness of the elections. “The pushed-back timeline allowed for more people to be prepared and also allowed for more people to run,” Zhou said.

The cap on campaign spending was also increased this year, according to Kevin Y. Yan ’15, the Chair of the UA Election Commission. Whereas in previous years spending was capped “between 1 and 2 percent” of MIT’s semester undergraduate tuition, the UA switched it to a percentage of the school’s annual tuition this year, effectively doubling the limit. However, Yan notes that spending was in line with previous years and that most candidates’ spending did not approach the limit.

The preferential voting system used by the UA also mistakenly allowed for voters to choose the same candidate for a position multiple times. Yan says they will fix the bug on the website before the spring election for the rest of the Class Councils.

Many of the candidates found the campaigning process intense but manageable. Webb said he was not affected by the competition of the four other candidates. “The only person I was competing with was myself.”

Webb comes from the suburbs of Atlanta and hopes to study either Course 2 or Course 6. A large part of his campaign strategy was to prepare before campaign week even started, which he said allowed for him to get a head start and avoid overworking during the week. With the help of friends, he had posters up around the entire school starting as early as the Saturday morning before elections.

Spending less than $100, much of which he raised from friends, Webb also printed 700 business cards with the phrase “Join the Webb” and attached candy to them. He then distributed them to students in the 8.01 classes in order to raise awareness for his campaign.

Webb believes the important part of campaigning, though, was “getting to know people personally.” He visited every dorm except for Random Hall and talked to many of the freshmen.

Newly elected vice president Gomez comes from Sarasota, Florida and is interested in pursuing Courses 1 and 15. She decided to run for Class Council after meeting many freshmen through the MIT summer program Interphase. She was also on her high school’s Class Council in high school.

Like Webb, Gomez campaigned by meeting as many freshmen as possible around campus. When it came to finding time to campaign, Gomez said, “It was actually very time-consuming so I’m glad it was just one week.” Gomez joked she was happy with the length “for the sake of not failing [her] classes.”

Rumen R. Dangovski ’18 and Yuge Ji ’18, who were elected social chairs, looked to “unify [the] class in a helpful, modest way” when they chose to run, according to their email to The Tech.

When it came to campaigning, Dangovski and Ji said they “didn’t campaign in the usual sense.” Except for putting chalk in front of Lobby 7 for a day, they didn’t feel the need to advertise themselves. Instead, they simply talked to people.

Now elected, Dangovski and Ji are looking to “get to know the rest of the UA Council and learn from their experiences.” The entire Class Council has an on-campus retreat planned for this Thursday.

Webb is already brainstorming ideas for events he hopes to introduce. One idea is to start themed study breaks for the freshman class, such as ones centered on Thanksgiving or standup comedy. Additionally, both Webb and Gomez hope to go beyond social events and also organize community service projects.

Webb also plans to connect the freshmen class with members of the alumni community. He mentioned how the Class of 2017 organized an event earlier this year in which they invited members from the Class of 1967 to a forum in which the alumni reflected on their experiences after MIT. Webb hopes to organize a similar event for the Classes of 2018 and 1968.

Finally, Webb hopes to implement periodic surveys to increase communication with the freshmen class. “Being able to provide a venue for people to give their feedback will allow us to really represent our class and what our class wants to do,” said Webb.