Undeterred by pandemic, TCU elections intensify online

The Voatz table in the Mayer Campus Center, where students voted in the Tufts Community Union elections, is pictured on Sept. 17, 2018. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily Archives

Several unusually competitive races for positions in student government began on Friday, as prospective candidates were made official ahead of this week’s online-only general election.

Undergraduates will elect candidates to fill 29 Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate seats, seven Judiciary seats and five on the Committee on Student Life (CSL) when polls open for 48 hours on April 15 in Voatz, the online voting platform criticized earlier this year by researchers for significant security weaknesses.

Despite the closure of campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several of the races are highly competitive: 13 candidates contest seven seats in the TCU Senate for the Class of 2021 and eight candidates jockey for five elected positions on the CSL.

The crowded field of rising seniors running to represent their class in the TCU Senate is unprecedented compared to recent years, according to Sharif Hamidi, a TCU senator for the Class of 2021 standing in his fourth senate election.

Grant Gebetsberger, another TCU Senator for the Class of 2021 running in his fourth election, explained that such unusually high engagement demonstrates the active citizenship embraced by his class.

“I am not surprised at the high level of interest in rising seniors because the Class of 2021 has always been, in my experience, extremely thoughtful, active, and engaged when it comes to fighting for the causes we believe in and being a part of campus life more generally,” Gebetsberger wrote in an electronic message to the Daily. “It makes the process less valuable when senior TCU Senate elections are uncontested every year.”

Incumbents, former officeholders and newcomers alike populate the two atypically crowded races. According to Gebetsberger, online-only campaigning eliminates any potential boost associated with previously holding office.

We all have a responsibility to put our message out there and make the case for why we’re the best choice to represent our class,” Gebetsberger said.Everyone in this race has an equal opportunity to do that because we’re all running social media campaigns and reaching out to friends in our class to run in this election.”

Despite its effect on parity, the Elections Commission (ECOM) Chair Matt Zachem told the Daily earlier this month that the all-online election may further depress voter turnout and engagement, since traditional tools for outreach such as posters and tabling are no longer available to candidates. 

Sofía Friedman, a sophomore seeking election to the CSL, remains hopeful, encouraging her peers to create impactful change out of the unprecedented circumstances of the election.

I can see how this election could feel disengaging, but I hope that my fellow Jumbos will see this as the opposite: an opportunity to re-connect with our Tufts community and to invest in the future of our students’ wellbeing,” Friedman wrote in an electronic message to the Daily.Extraordinary times demand extraordinary behavior, so let’s take advantage of that and make this an election to remember.

Junior Nathaniel Berman, running in his first election to represent the Class of 2021 in the TCU Senate, similarly hopes that student engagement exceeds normal expectations, despite the constraints of online-only campaigning.

We’re all away from campus, looking for ways to stay connected with our friends and peers at Tufts,Berman wrote in an electronic message to the Daily. “I hope my campaign helps foster that engagement, and remind students why they care.”

Shortly after notifying candidates of their verified status, ECOM requested that candidates submit self-recorded videos of themselves answering questions about their plans similar to those that would have been at the usual Candidate’s Forum, made impossible by the shift to online classes and return home for many students. According to Zachem, a sophomore, ECOM plans to post the videos to its Facebook page on Tuesday for all voters and candidates to view.

Hamidi and Gebetsberger join fellow juniors Sarah Wiener and Annika Witt in seeking re-election to the TCU Senate for the Class of 2021. Griffen Saul, Taylor Lewis, Alex Lein and Ayden Crosby, all former TCU senators, along with Berman, Olivier Ng’weno Kigotho, Mathew Peña, Eve Amanuel Abraha and Shaikat Islam are also running for TCU Senate to represent their class.

Ten candidates total seek to fill the seven available TCU Senate seats for the Class of 2023. First-years Hannah Pearl and Sam Russo are running against eight incumbents: Sarah Tata, Jenna Kaplan, Avani Kabra, Ibrahim AlMuasher, Max Morningstar, Jalen Little, Caroline Ross and Valerie Infante.

Seven candidates are running uncontested for the seven available TCU Senate seats for the Class of 2022. Sophomores Rune Kirby and Isabella McKinney will join incumbents Tim Leong, Iyra Chandra, Deepen Goradia, Andrew Tien Vu and Rabiya Ismail.

TCU Senator for the Class of 2022 Amma Agyei is running for the position of Africana Community Senator against junior Hezekiah Branch

Asian American Community Senator Elizabeth Hom, First Generation College Student Community Senator José Martinez and Latinx Community Senator Carolina Olea Lezama, all sophomores, are running unopposed for re-election. LGBTQ+ Community Senator Kathleen Lanzilla, a junior, and Women’s Community Senator Surya Adeleye, a first-year, are also running unopposed for re-election to their respective positions.

Due to unclear advertisement of the position, ECOM announced on its Facebook page that the application deadline to run for the new position of School of the Museum of Fine Arts Community Senator would be extended until 11:59 p.m. EST on April 12. There is no candidate seeking election as International Community Senator.

Six members of the TCU Judiciary are seeking re-election to the seven-seat body: sophomores Camille Calabrese, Andres Borjas and Jonah Zwillinger and first-years John Youssef, Holden Dahlerbruch and Zachary Ferretti. The seventh candidate is Max Price, a sophomore, who most recently lost in a February special election which filled vacancies in the TCU Senate.

Eight candidates are running for the five elected student positions on the CSL, which is otherwise made up of Tufts-appointed faculty, administrators and staff. Juniors Elliot Lam and Himay Dharani, sophomore Anton Shenk and first-years Bridget Dick and Jojo Kuo are running for re-election to the CSL. The remaining candidates are Friedman and first-years Ryan Kim and Abibatu Giwa-Osagie.

Elections for TCU President will begin on April 23, continuing for a 48-hour period.


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