Candidates go digital in CSG races as students leave campus

Thursday, March 19, 2020 - 3:10pm

With students leaving, Central Student Government campaigns are changing their campaigning techniques to online ones.

With students leaving, Central Student Government campaigns are changing their campaigning techniques to online ones. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

With many University of Michigan students off-campus due to fears about the spread of coronavirus, candidates running in the Central Student Government election next week have based their efforts to connect with voters on online platforms. 

Following the outbreak of the virus in Michigan, the University moved classes and finals online while President Mark Schlissel encouraged all students to return to their permanent residences. This forced the campaigns seeking to win seats in next week’s CSG election — which traditionally brings campaigners to the Diag and posters plastered on campus walls — to adjust their outreach strategies.

Several candidates told The Daily that the shift to students going off-campus has affected the upcoming elections as they are unable to spread the word about the elections through campaigning on campus. Campaigning online, they said, can also be difficult since parties cannot send emails on listservs — a rule written into the election code.

Members of the three parties campaigning in next week’s election said they are now reliant on social media platforms to reach out to students and have their messages heard. 

Rackham student Austin Glass, Change At Michigan’s presidential candidate, said that while the party is still reaching out to voters through social media, the executive ticket has decided to suspend the party’s broader campaign activities in light of COVID-19 and limit campaigning to friends and those they had already been in touch with previously. 

“Ultimately, we made the executive decision at the top of the ticket to put off campaign efforts other than those with people who had already reached out to us and to whom we had already reached out just to try and give people their space,” Glass said. “Obviously, this has been a huge disruption on all of our lives. We’ve tried to make sure that the folks involved in the campaign don’t feel like CSG elections are one more thing that they have got to worry about.”

Glass said Change At Michigan’s campaign strategy would rely on social networks like Facebook, sending texts to friends and group chats — platforms that, unlike emails, are not restricted by the election code. 

“The biggest challenge that we face is connecting with students we don’t already know,” Glass said. “We can’t just go out and stand on the Diag, we can’t post flyers in buildings that students are walking though because they are not walking through those buildings anymore.”

Public Policy junior Amanda Kaplan, Mobilize’s presidential candidate, said the suspension of in-person classes will not significantly impact their campaign strategy. Kaplan said most of Mobilize’s campaigning has been through social media, as it helped their campaign avoid using paper on flyers and posters and was in line with their emphasis on sustainability.

“Usually people use flyers, and that was a commitment that Sav and I made at the beginning — that we weren’t going to print any flyers even if we were on campus because we wanted to be paper-free,” Kaplan said. “We have been focusing on social media and using networks, so I think for (Mobilize), it’s just making sure that those networks are being used up to their potential so that as many students can be engaged as possible in the process.”

LSA sophomore Sam Braden, who is running for re-election as an LSA representative with Represent Michigan, also said the move to online classes will not affect his party’s campaign strategy much.

“Oftentimes, people haven’t really put a lot of effort into (platforms) as they focus on telling people to vote for them,” Braden said. “Represent Michigan started with coming up with a comprehensive good platform. A lot of our focus has been just to make the platforms high quality.”

Kaplan also emphasized how important each student vote is now that there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 on campus and the University is grappling with its effects.

“As students are being worried about what the future of the University is going to look like and what is the purpose of CSG elections in the midst of all this craziness, I think it’s important to ground people and recognize that this vote is now more important than ever because these (elected representatives) are going to be leading the University through such a tumultuous time in confronting the effects of COVID-19 now and throughout the following year,” Kaplan said.

LSA junior Mary McKillop, CSG’s elections director and LSA Student Government vice president, said the elections team was working hard to reach out to students through online resources, such as Canvas and Facebook, to keep voter turnout up. McKillop also said the team planned on using the previously allocated $500 for campaigning on targeted advertising on CSG’s Facebook account.

Students can vote online March 25 to 26 at vote.umich.edu.

Daily Staff Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at itznavya@umich.edu.