Commission ready for upcoming StuGov election cycle


Ashley Siegner/Iowa State Daily

Jacob Zirkelbach, clerk of the senate, attends the Student Government meeting on Aug. 23, 2017. 

Alex Connor

Despite a recent appointment to the position of election commissioner, Jacob Zirkelbach is optimistic about the upcoming election cycle and what his seasoned team has to offer.

Approved by the Senate just three weeks ago, Zirkelbach and his seven-member election commission have been working to push out information about how to run for Student Government and other information pertinent to the upcoming campaign season.

This includes hosting sessions about the election, in which attendance is mandatory for a senate or executive slate to campaign, as well as making sure all is ready for events such as the vice presidential and presidential debates.

Extending outreach

It what was a more concentrated effort this year, Student Government held a session specific to women as a recruiting mechanism to get more voices and representation in the Senate and Cabinet.

“We were certainly more purposeful about who we outreach to and what kinds of groups we advertise to,” Zirkelbach said.

Additionally, one of the information sessions served as a town hall where potential candidates could meet with current senators and ask questions about Student Government in a one-on-one environment.

“I think with elections as the topic we can hopefully encourage to run and hopefully we can get more people to ask us questions,” Vice President Cody Smith said in an earlier interview.

“If nothing else, [it is] gathering more interest in Student Government elections, getting more diverse crowds to run and making sure that everybody has the opportunity to learn about [elections] if they want to.”

Zirkelbach said that based off the turnout he has seen from the information sessions, he is expecting several Senate seats, as well as the executive slates, to be contested.

“So far, the amount of people that I’ve seen in the room, and the people that I have seen in the room, I recognize hardly any of them. It’s really refreshing,” he said.

What’s new to the Election Code?

As per Student Government bylaws, the Senate must approve an election code ahead of each cycle as suggested by the election commission.

Under former election commissioner Bradlee Fair, who stepped down from her position last fall to pursue a job opportunity, the commission suggested overhauling the current executive funding option as an incentive to make running for president or vice president more accessible.

While spending is capped at $2,000 for all executive slates, which pales in comparison to $3,000 last year and $5,000 two years ago, candidates running for president and vice president now have the opportunity to fund their campaign through Student Government.

This, Zirkelbach said, is the first time in recent history that Student Government has had a public-funding option.

“We already have a reimbursement procedure, we also have a public funding option. There’s a lot of options and systems to take advantage of if people are worried about the money,” Zirkelbach said.

To be eligible for public funding, which is paid for by Student Activity Fees — the Senate capping its overall election contribution at $6,000 to be divided up among eligible slates — candidates must obtain 750 signatures to run.

Privately-funded campaigns must obtain just 500 signatures.

“We really just want to make sure that anyone can run for Student Government and it’s not just the people that can afford it. We want it to be more inclusive,” said election commission member Sierra Stalians.

Other changes to the Election Code include more definitive language regarding endorsements by student organizations and university programs. Last year, the merits of an executive slate’s endorsement by Women in Science and Engineering, WiSE, was called into question because of a gray area in the Election Code.

According to last year’s Election Code, “all endorsements are required to be filed with the Election Commision before claiming the enforcement.” The code, however, only listed specifics for student organizations. WiSE was not considered a student organization but instead a university program.

“We consider, for university organizations, social media promotion of specific candidates or preferential treatment to specific candidates to be endorsement which is against our bylaws,” Zirkelbach said.

Because of this, the Election Code approved by the Senate last fall states, “University organizations are prohibited from endorsing any specific candidate.”

“It was in the gray area last election cycle. This year it was like, we can see how this could be abused,” Zirkelbach said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was abused last year, but seeing that it was done last year — I think someone could come in and certainly start abusing it.”

Election timeline and voting need-to-know

Elections are a four-week cycle that begin in mid-February with voting closing in mid-March, in advance of spring break.

As of Feb. 5, candidates — both executive and legislative — can begin to openly campaign for their seat.

The vice presidential debate will take place on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. in the Carver 101, and the presidential debate will take place on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Union Gallery Room.

The debates will be moderated in partnership by the election commission and the Iowa State Daily.

Students will have the option to vote online on March 6 and 7, with the polls closing at 11:59 p.m.

Last year, student voter turnout was 10 percent higher than the year before with nearly one in four students participating in the elections.

“Voting and taking part in the process of voting and also elections in general… is of utmost importance. It’s what makes Iowa State so fantastic to be at, it makes it worth it to be here for four years,” Zirkelbach said.

So why get involved in Student Government, whether through voting in the election or vying for a Senate seat? For Zirkelbach it’s a passion for Iowa State led by driven students.

“It’s the students that make this place worth it and they do pretty much everything — just about anything you flip over here you’ll find Student Government in some form or fashion and an initiative that was brought on by involved and dedicated people,” he said.