Amidst cheers, applause and occasional cries of “shame!” from the audience late in the evening of Feb. 9, students of varying ages, majors and socioeconomic backgrounds comprised the several hundred who attended the primary elections for one of the major student-run parties in search of a victory in Associated Students in 2012. As an event that was sent out via Facebook to nearly 2,000 University of California Santa Barbara students, the Progressive Student Coalition held four information sessions across a two-week span to encourage students to “get involved in student affairs.”
These primary elections, which first started in 2010, were designed to mimic the democratic process of voting that United States Congressmen adhere to- allowing the people to directly elect their desired representatives, with members requiring only a plurality of votes, in order to win the primary.
“Anyone who wants to be elected to AS or wants to be next year’s leaders and has that drive, can,” said second-year political science major Kenia Tello. “[The primary system] gives anyone from anywhere the opportunity to run for these positions.”
Currently, the Progressive Student Coalition is the only organization and party- both on the UCSB campus and across all 10 University of California campuses- that chooses candidates to run for office by popular student vote. This means that only for this party do any UC students have full control over whom they decide to elect as representatives under their party; in all other cases, decisions are made without the consent of the people and without actual confirmation of any constituency.
Traditionally, candidates are chosen by administrators or party leaders through an interview process.
“During my first year, I only got an interview because I knew someone who was in AS, and traditionally, if you don’t know someone in these parties or in AS, you don’t get an interview,” said Joel Mandujano, fourth-year feminist studies major and one of many co-organizers of the event. “These parties have closed-door interviews where they sit and they choose who represents them rather than letting the people vote and decide who they want to represent them. We have the people who will be supporting us during elections choosing who they want, and this way, we make these elections inclusive to all students and their needs.”
“We give every student an opportunity to give a little speech about who they are. The nice thing is that it gives them a sense of ownership over the position if they win, which really helps them strive to represent the needs of the students,” said Nadim Houssain, a third-year global studies and religious studies double major and a nominee for Vice President of External Affairs, about the benefits of having primaries. “The benefits are that they’ve realized that they earned the position, since if you’re voted into a position, it’s because your peers believed in you and supported you, and it gives you a sense of confidence by beating out other students who didn’t get the position.”
Despite this implicit competition, students who don’t get their desired positions are still able to dedicate time and effort through volunteering.
“For me, if it weren’t for this event, I really wouldn’t be involved- I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met and I wouldn’t be where I am today on Finance Board if it weren’t for this opportunity,” said second-year sociology student Megan Foronda. “I’m actually a lot more aware of the different concerns on this campus too. I feel that this group is much more diverse, and we know each issue that every student goes through, whether they’re from different backgrounds, or if they’re from a more well-off neighborhood.”
At the end, those who endured the lengthy process that went until nearly midnight were able to hear the inspiring, emotional speeches made by presidential hopefuls Sophia Armen and Yoel Haile, both of whom were hugging supporters and shedding tears of joy afterward.
“It’s very exciting; I love the rush of being involved,” said Tello.