With signs up and down Trousdale Parkway and the flurry of new profile pictures bearing the names of candidates, the Undergraduate Student Government elections are officially underway. This past week, students witnessed the first debate between the presidential tickets — Debbie Lee & Blake Ackerman, and Mai Mizuno & Brianna Bozek — and will be able to watch them discuss more of their platform points and policy ideas next week in the diversity roundtable event. However, the 15 candidates vying for the 12 spots on the USG Senate will not be featured in debates or roundtables, with only a meet and greet event scheduled for this Monday. It’s valuable and necessary to hear candidates discuss their policy ideas in a debate or roundtable format, which the senate races will lack.
Presidential tickets are given the opportunity to publicly engage with students’ questions and flesh out their policy platforms on a campus-wide stage, but USG senatorial candidates never receive this opportunity. Meet and greet events may be important, but the reality is that students must be physically present to hear the candidates’ ideas and visions. While the presidential debates are broadcasted and released online for all students to review at their convenience, senate candidates are limited to physically engaging with students or reaching them through social media campaigns.
Senatorial debates are especially necessary because senators play a specifically policy-heavy role in USG operations. Whereas the president and vice president oscillate between proposing policy changes and acting as liaisons between the student body and the administration, the senate’s principal job is to create and endorse policy resolutions in response to the needs demonstrated by the student body. Their roles as senators depend upon their policy ideas and abilities to assess students’ needs, and yet they are never provided with opportunities to discuss their policy ideas and directly answer questions from the student body in a public forum.
Additionally, debates and roundtables are not just important platforms for sharing policy ideas; they also help viewers see how candidates’ policies stand up to interrogation and opposition from opponents. Debates provide an opportunity for students to personally interact with candidates, and for candidates to challenge each other. Being a senator is centered around articulating one’s vision in a way that appeals and persuades to a majority. That students would be able to accurately gauge candidates’ abilities to serve as senators without seeing them in a debate or roundtable is dubious. In an election cycle in which none of the current 12 senators are running for re-election — and all 15 candidates, if elected, would be first-time senators — it becomes even more difficult to make an educated decision as a voter.
Senators are expected to act as activists on behalf of students. But how can students feel confident in their choice of advocates if they have never seen the candidates operate in roles similar to the senate environment? With presidential tickets, student voters are given the opportunity to thoroughly acquaint themselves with the nominees. At the end of the election process, voters will have seen presidential candidates debate, heard their ideas for the future and watched them answer student questions. Without this process available to senatorial candidates, the senate race can easily be reduced to a popularity contest. The USG elections system should be based on more than name recognition and how appealing students find the senatorial candidates’ logos. Candidates deserve the opportunity to participate in a race based on substance and ideas, and voters deserve to cast ballots for candidates whom they were drawn to because of their ideas, and not just their posters.
With voter turnout percentage at USC hovering from the low-to-mid-20s in recent years, it’s time for the USG elections board to direct their focus toward engaging voters — not just through free food offered at polling stations, but through facilitating dialogue between the senatorial candidates and student voters. If students have a better grasp on the policies that senatorial candidates wish to implement, they will be more likely to go to the polling stations and vote. Presidential tickets may be vying to be the face of USG, but the senate is the backbone — and it’s time students were given the opportunity to hear its voice.
Daily Trojan spring 2018 Editorial Board