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First-year Class Council candidates adjust to virtual campaigning

<h6>José Pablo Fernández García / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
José Pablo Fernández García / The Daily Princetonian

Every fall semester, first-year candidates for Class Council vie for students’ votes, often by going dorm to dorm and campaigning in public spaces. The twenty-seven first-years running for the 2024 Class Council, however, have no choice but to campaign virtually.

The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) is running this semester’s election like the past spring election, with the only major change being that candidates may now collect signatures via electronic petition, rather than in person.

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USG also altered the rules for electronic messages, as students may now send campaign messages to large group chats or listservs, so long as they notify USG. Previously, students were not permitted to send campaign messages on listservs.

Most candidates agreed the most challenging aspect of virtual campaigning was making inroads with student voters.

“Honestly, it’s kind of hard. Everything is so new, and it’s hard to reach out to people and find authentic ways of doing so,” candidate Elliott Hyon ’24 said. “But in some aspects it’s really rewarding because I get to reach out to more people personally.”

But according to some candidates, virtual campaigning has its upsides as well.

“[Virtual campaigning] definitely does level the playing field for someone who has other extracurriculars and potentially can’t really knock on doors as much as they would like to,” said Alison Lee ’24, who is running for the Class Council. “It also helps you figure how to control your image a little better. I really liked it because the virtual environment campaigning pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to talk to more people.”

There have been some technical challenges, especially when it came to navigating listservs.

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“[First-years] really don’t know how to use the listservs and just trying to figure them out was a little confusing at first,” candidate Katie Lee ’24 said. “We’ve been internally asking questions, and the candidates have been helping each other. We give each other tips on what kinds of resources to use or how to make nice graphics.”

There is also no localized resource to contact all Class of 2024 students besides email, so candidates have been using personal approaches to reach out to students. Candidates Lindsay Sharman ’24 and Sydney Johnson ’24 have contacted students over Instagram.

“[In person] I think I would not be struggling as much to connect one-on-one with people, but when you DM someone it sounds a little bit superficial, like you’re just wanting their vote when you actually just want to get to know people,” Sharman said.

Despite these difficulties, candidates have taken advantage of social media to get their platforms across to students in creative ways.

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“A lot of people have been using memes,” candidate Rebecca Cao ’24 said. “That probably was a thing even before [virtual instruction], but now is even more common, which is fun to see.”

Alison Lee and Tony Owens Jr. ’24 organized a debate via Instagram Live on Sept. 25 to discuss their platforms and the importance of Class Council, especially during a virtual semester.

Johnson posts infographics and uses her Instagram story to connect with students.

“I love social media, so I’m kind of enjoying it,” Johnson said. “So far I think that it’s been going well. People have been really, really kind.”

USG Chief Elections Manager Lehman Montgomery ’22 is updating the elections handbook for the upcoming winter elections, but the rules specific to virtual campaigning will be removed when students return back to campus.

“We do encourage ... students to gather signatures in person because we want them to interact with the student bodies that they intend on representing,” Montgomery said. “It becomes a little bit more detached when they have the opportunity just to send an email or text in a group chat to collect signatures, so they’re not really creating really any new relationships.”

Voting for the first-year class council started on Sept. 28 and will close tomorrow, Sept. 30, at 12 p.m. EDT.

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