UI student leaders look for voter turnout jump with two-party race

BY KRISTEN EAST | APRIL 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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As University of Iowa Student Government leaders make the final push for their campaigns, undergraduate voters will have the final say beginning Wednesday.

Two parties — the I Party and the # (Hashtag) Party — are contending for open UISG seats in this week's election. According to voting records obtained by The Daily Iowan, this year's election is the first multiparty contest in three years. Several student leaders said the competition should lead to greater voter turnout.

"[The parties] are adopting very all-encompassing campaigns — you wouldn't see that if it was a one-party election," said Patrick Grim, the UI Student Elections Board commissioner.

This year's presidential candidates said they've noticed students are more interested in a multiparty election. "We found that when there was one party running, [students] weren't really interested," said Sunny Kothari, the # (Hashtag) Party presidential candidate. "Voters have taken an interest because the are two different parties. They have something to research."

Current UISG President Elliot Higgins ran uncontested alongside Vice President Brittany Caplin last year for the Action Party. Roughly 3,000 votes were cast for the one-party ticket.

"It's good to see that two parties are running this year," Higgins said. "I think that more candidates in the race will translate to more votes being cast."

But UI Dean of Students David Grady — who handles the administrative side of UI elections — said other campaign tactics could lead to more votes, noting each party's use of brightly colored campaign T-shirts.

"There's not really a correlation between the number of tickets and the [voter] turnout," he said. "It's hard to define."

The voting records don't indicate a definite correlation between the number of parties running and votes cast.

Seven parties vied for open UISG seats in 1994. Only 2,401 tickets were cast that year — roughly 1,400 fewer votes than Higgins and Caplin received last year while running uncontested.

Former 2008-09 UISG President Maison Bleam — who ran against three other parties with former Vice President Bridget Szeluga — still holds the record for the highest number of votes cast and highest percentage of voter turnout. More than 6,300 students voted for Bleam and Szeluga's VIP Party ticket, roughly 33 percent of the students.

"We took campaigning to a whole new level," Bleam said. "The university hadn't seen those tactics employed before."

Bleam and Szeluga campaigned by handing out thousands of lanyards and T-shirts as well as organizing door-knocking efforts and downtown bar crawls.

"We ran it almost like a Statehouse campaign," he said. "It's a really effective way to get people who don't usually vote."

I Party candidate Nic Pottebaum said he expects a larger voter turnout, but he doesn't think this year's election will be much different from those in previous years.

"It's pretty traditional in terms of how things are being done," he said. "The students have had a pretty normal response to what's going on."

However, Grim maintains this year's UISG parties are still campaigning competitively for the student vote.

"They're just going out there and trying to promote their campaigns to the best of their abilities," he said. "There's an increased awareness about this election. Competitiveness is always going to breed higher election turnouts."

The UISG elections will be held Wednesday and Thursday; undergraduate students may log on to ISIS to vote.

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