Between mass text messages, Snapchat filters, dancing videos and hashtags, the most recent Utah State University Student Association (USUSA) election was different than its predecessors.
One of the most obvious reasons was the use of social media.
Several candidates used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even personalized Snapchat filters to promote themselves — an activity one current student officer said was unprecedented.
“When I ran, Snapchat filters weren’t a thing — Instagram stories weren’t a thing,” said Ryan Jensen, the current USUSA student events vice president and elections co-chair.
Jensen said the use of social media contributed to several issues throughout the election week, including reports he received regarding bullying on various forms of social media.
“I had never seen it get that ugly,” he said.
Jensen also said it’s difficult to regulate the use of social media because the election by-laws do not specify what candidates can and cannot post on their personal social media.
“There were things that happened that weren’t in the by-laws,” he said. “It was ugly, but we couldn’t do anything about it, which is sad.”
Carly Thornhill, the President’s Cabinet director and a member of several campaign teams, said she thought many students voted for certain candidates based on their social media popularity.
“If you’re well-known on social media, people are going to see your stuff and assume you’re the best candidate,” Thornhill said.
Other students said they thought this election was filled with more drama than they expected.
“From what people had said, I heard there was going to be lots of drama, but I didn’t know to what extent,” said Hope Nelson, a member of the President’s Cabinet and the elections committee.
Several grievances — or punishments filed against candidates for violating election by-laws — were filed throughout the campaign process. One of the most notable involved a mass text message sent to more than 2,000 students, asking them to vote for Michael Scott Peters and Dallin Johnson for USUSA president and executive vice president.
Jensen, who said he had seen several elections throughout his time at USU, said he had never seen a grievance as large-scale or talked-about as the mass text message.
Thornhill said she thought the decision was “kind of a slap on the wrist” while other decisions made by the board were “very strict.”
Due to the controversy surrounding the grievance and decision made by the grievance hearing board, Jensen said he thinks the by-laws need to be updated to address the issue of mass messaging and social media usage.
“We need to explore Snapchat and when that can be used and what does mass messaging mean,” Jensen said. “Does it mean you can send a text message to a lot of people or does it just mean email?”
Lauren Morrill, a member of Michael Scott Peters’ presidential campaign committee, said this election was “a super tough one,” due to the competitiveness between Peters and Rachael Fresh, the two presidential candidates.
“Everyone loves drama so it just spread and people felt like they had to pick sides,” Morrill said.
Morrill also said she felt like people were “die-hard” fans for either Peters or Fresh, because Peters knew “a lot of people” and Fresh “was very qualified.”
Blake Harms, the executive vice president-elect, agreed that the election brought drama.
“Drama is sexy, so everyone is gonna go and look for it,” he said.
Harms said he thinks part of the excess drama was due to events in the November 2016 United States presidential election.
“Because of our national political situation right now, everybody is a little heightened to the drama that occurred,” he said.
In the midst of the grievances, stress and drama, however, Harms aimed to show unity and respect between the candidates by posting a picture with himself, his opponent Dallin Johnson and the presidential candidates on social media with the caption, “We all have campaigns built on unity. So we thought it’d be best to show it.”
Harms said he values the principles of unity and respect, which is why he felt it was important to take a picture with the candidates displaying unity and respect for each other.
USUSA Spokesman Spencer Perry said he did not think this election was worse than past elections, however, he does think the by-laws should be updated for future years.
In order to gain student feedback about the grievance and election processes, Perry said he is working on a survey asking students how they felt about the process.
“We wanted to reach out and see how other people felt about them so that, moving forward, maybe we could revisit how the process works,” he said.
Jensen agreed and said the elections committee kept “a running list” of issues they think need to be added to next year’s by-laws.
Photo by Shanie Howard