By Ravi Smith
The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Elections Commission has indefinitely postponed the ASSU campaigning and election period, originally scheduled for March 30 through April 9, amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic and exodus of undergraduates from Stanford’s campus.
“[We] recognize that the country remains under a national emergency and that our world may remain uncertain for weeks to come,” wrote ASSU Elections Commissioner Christian Giadolor ’21 in an email to candidates on March 16.
Giadolor plans to reschedule voting on annual grants — which allocate student group funding for the upcoming year — for mid-May, but he is still determining the election timeline for candidates for the ASSU’s executive and legislative branches, he told The Daily. The entire membership of the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council, along with the ASSU executive and class presidents, are up for election.
There are two possible timelines for campaigns and elections. The Elections Commission — consisting of Giadolor and Edwin Ong ’23 — prefers to conduct in-person campaigns in the fall, once undergraduates are expected to return to campus, Giadolor said. Because Stanford does not have finalized enrollment numbers until Week 3, according to Giadolor, the earliest that fall elections could happen would be Week 4.
The second option is to preserve spring elections. Candidates would hold entirely digital campaigns in the run-up to a May election in Week 7 or 8.
Giadolor is meeting with the ASSU Executive Committee, made up of the leaders of all the branches of the ASSU, to make a final decision on Friday.
“Virtual elections will be conducted if there are no other avenues possible for the Elections Commission,” Giadolor said.
Virtual elections could prevent the student body from engaging fully with the election process, according to Giadolor. The varying levels of home broadband access could prevent candidates from running virtual campaigns or hamper students’ ability to engage in them. The additional stress stemming from the economic and personal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could also impede students’ engagement with campaigns, he added.
The Elections Commission is currently determining whether it is feasible to conduct elections in the fall. ASSU representatives are usually elected in spring quarter, when they begin training, and their advocacy work continues through the summer. It is unclear who would hold ASSU offices in the time before a fall election date.
“Constitutionally there is not much, if anything, that speaks to emergency terms, election postponement or delays,” Giadolor said. “Those decisions are therefore delegated to the specific bodies, our legislative bodies, the [Graduate Student Council] and Undergraduate Senate, which can pass emergency resolutions that provide clarity.”
Sarah Saboorian ’22, a current ASSU senator not running for reelection, was open to the possibility of serving through the summer.
“I’m more than willing to do that, and I think a lot of our Senate would be willing to do that given these unforeseen circumstances,” Saboorian said.
The executive branch, however, does not have the same legal flexibility as the legislative branch.
“The constitution does stipulate that [each executives’] term ends at the end of spring quarter,” Giadolor said. “That has caused us to begin to figure out some of the continuity of leadership questions.”
The current ASSU executives, President Erica Scott ’20 and Vice President Isaiah Drummond ’20, told The Daily that they would not be able to continue serving during the summer. There are no ASSU regulations governing whether a temporary executive could be appointed in this situation.
“I think people would be willing,” Scott said. “It would just be a matter of figuring out who.”
In addition to extending terms for current representatives, fall elections would deprive new representatives of the onboarding period before the fall, when senators begin to execute the bulk of their agendas.
“For my [ASSU] position this year I did a lot of legwork in the summer so I could hit the ground running in the fall,” said Vianna Vo ’21, a current ASSU executive cabinet member and a candidate for ASSU executive in 2020-21.
Saboorian was more optimistic about the potential for new senators to acclimate if they are elected in the fall.
“I think they will be able to do a great job,” Saboorian said. “Being on Senate revolves around self-initiative, and they can definitely do work to prepare over summer. I don’t think [new senators] would be at a disadvantage, except for the fact that they would be less familiar with Stanford administrative bodies, which I’m sure they would be given lectures or seminars about in the fall.”
More detailed election platforms would be crucial for representatives’ success in the fall, according to Scott.
“You have to treat the fall as the quarter when the rubber hits the road,” Scott said.
If the commission decides on spring elections, candidates would need to grapple with how to craft their campaigns when in-person outreach is not an option.
“One of the most effective strategies is canvassing in person because it’s really easy to ignore virtual information on email listservs and social media,” said 2020-21 executive candidate Jennalei Louie ’21, a current member of the Undergraduate Senate.
“We have to think more creatively about how we approach our campaign, what types of media we produce and how we reach out to people,” added Martin Altenburg ’21, Louie’s executive slate partner and a second-term senator. “There are a lot of analogs we can use in order to do this virtually.”
Executive slates have suggested holding dialogues with community centers over Zoom, sending out mass emails to campus listservs and posting to student Facebook groups.
Both of the slates running for executive were concerned that digital campaigning would be tilted to favor candidates with more social connections, which could lead to more access to email listservs or Facebook groups. Social influence would be especially impactful without the campaign mainstays of tabling in White Plaza and posting flyers around campus.
“Fundamentally, [digital campaigns] feel wrong to me because the position should be about who can get things done, not who knows the most people,” Vo said. “But with the change to online [campaigns], I’m not sure how we can remedy that and make sure it’s not just a popularity contest.”
Gialodor agreed that digital campaigning carried potential inequities, which he said the Elections Commission would work to minimize in the case of a spring election. Possible measures include democratizing access to mediums such as listservs and providing basic training for candidates to make “engaging and exciting” content, he said.
Above all, Giadolor and the interviewed ASSU representatives said it is important to have student engagement in digital elections.
“It will be important to have spaces or opportunities, like town halls, to convince students to participate in the elections process,” Louie said. “It’s a lot easier to ignore campaigns when they aren’t in your face as much.”
“I hope students, if they have the ability, treat voting as a priority,” Scott said.
Contact Ravi Smith at ravi22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.