The Undergraduate Student Government presidential and vice presidential hopefuls have until Feb. 9 to not only win over the student body, but also engage with students and convince them to partake in voting.
The campaigns officially began on Jan. 26 with the launch of the USG elections website and the release of each ticket's platform. On Monday, candidates were allowed to begin their physical campaigns, dotting the grassy patches on campus with campaign signs and slogans.
But with just fifteen total days between the announcement and the last day of the voting period, the biggest hurdle the campaigns face is to overcome the apathy of the student body. After an uptick in engagement in the 2015 USG election, just 3,700 people cast their vote in 2016. That represents a nearly 40 percent drop in turnout.
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"I think the problem is access to information," said Tim Vorhoff of the Daniel Million/Tim Vorhoff ticket, noting the complexity of USG and the lack of a clear stream of information about student government.
"A lot of the USG positions almost end up falling under nepotism of the people who have the information, who know the people in positions of power, who get into the organization," explained Vorhoff.
Rachel Udabe and Rebecca Harbeck have not been involved with USG in the past, and thus have not been the beneficiaries of that nepotism noted by Vorhoff. Their experience of being on the outside looking in has informed their opinion that the apathy stems from the structure of USG as an organization.
"I think a lot of criticism that people have had of USG is that it's very insular or elitist or it's hard to access," said USG vice presidential candidate Rebecca Harbeck. "We really want to make the organization more about the students and less about the bureaucracy."
Austin Dunn and Morgan Monahan of the Austin/Morgan ticket have been members of that bureaucracy, each holding either elected or appointed positions within USG in the last calendar year. Dunn remains the current USG Vice President while Monahan serves as the Senior Advisor to the USG's Advocacy branch. But they say that each of their three years of experience working with USG makes them more equipped to implement their agenda once elected.
"I think a year and a half of that was really learning the intricacies of [USG] and how to approach an administrator, and how to get that meeting and how to get them to say yes," said Morgan Monahan. "Having a running head start instead of having to learn that steep learning curve would definitely be why we'll be able to achieve [our platform]."
Even for campaigns flaunting their experience as an asset, however, winning over USC's student body is harder than providing a resume of titles held within student government.
Some USC students choose not to vote because they don't believe USG has enough political efficacy as an organization because many students have a difficult time seeing the effects of USG's actions on their daily life.
"With the exception of maybe the campus Uber program, I can't think of any program or service that USG has advocated for on our behalf that I have ever really used," said Luke Holthouse, a senior studying Policy, Planning and Development and Print and Digital Journalism.
"They have some legitimate responsibility in allocating funding to all the different student organizations on campus," said Holthouse, "but I certainly don't see it as some crucial source of advocacy for the interest of the student body."
In light of comments like that, each campaign has just days to prove to their soon-to-be constituency not only why their platform is better than that of the other tickets, but also why their agenda is one that can actually be implemented.
"We can't just [change things on campus] by saying a list of thirty platform points that are very vague and don't really solidify what we want," said Udabe of her nine-point platform, the shortest of the three released on Thursday. "We have short term goals that are very specific, very measured and calculable…that we know can be accomplished in office because they're very direct."
The first of those short term goals for the Rachel/Rebecca ticket is establishing mentorship programs for international students, spring admits and transfer students, which Udabe says they are in a unique position to accomplish because of her personal experience as an Orientation Advisor and a Residential Advisor and the relationships developed therein.
"We did research on what USC is currently doing and what schools like USC—the Cal schools, UCLA, schools like NYU—are doing," said Harbeck, noting that she expected the research would help inform their future decisions.
While the Rachel/Rebecca campaign adopted a shorter platform with fewer policy points, the Austin/Morgan ticket is campaigning on a wide one, hoping that casting a larger net will result in a wider base of support for various policies on campus.
They say that understanding the hurdles associated with policy making in USG has informed them about the full capacity of USG to enact change on a large scale level. Dunn noted that his involvement with larger, ongoing projects, like the creation of a fall break, is an asset when working with the administration because plans don't need to be created from scratch.
"There's never only one platform point that we would start on one at a time," said Dunn. "We have a lot of crossover from the current administration as well as new ideas, and the only prioritization is let's finish what we started first and foremost and then move onto new ideas."
Similarly, Daniel Million and Tim Vorhoff of the Million/Vorhoff campaign boast USG experience and a wide platform, but they say they are best equipped to implement their agenda because their varied experiences as USC students will help them tap into the issues that the student body truly cares about.
"Being a student of color, I've always felt underrepresented on campus," said Million. "We just want to foster an open community, where people feel like they can walk into the office and discuss the problems that are actually happening."
Stemming from their previous point that many of USC's resources are underused due to a lack of information, Million and Vorhoff said their first course of action once elected would be to develop a Trojan Involvement app. Available to everyone, the app would organize the meeting information for and forms associated with every student organization to break down the barriers between student organizations and the student body.
"I want it for every freshman in the hall, to get it during orientation: 'Here's an app,'" said Vorhoff. "That way, they can already plan out what they want to get involved in."
And while getting people more involved in student organizations is a focus of the Million/Vorhoff campaign for the future, getting student involvement in the elections process is a focus for every campaign until February 9.
USC Annenberg Media will host a town hall debate with all three of the USG tickets on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. in Wallis Annenberg Hall.