The University of Maryland’s past two SGA elections have shown similar traits: one party existed on the ballot, its members won all available positions and percentage of voter turnout in the presidential race remained in the single digits.
The One Party will hold all 38 Student Government Association positions it ran for during the 2017-18 academic year after only two races — that of student body president and off-campus neighboring representative — had candidates from outside the party.
Current SGA student affairs vice president and One Party candidate A.J. Pruitt was elected student body president on Monday, defeating unaffiliated candidate Christopher Boretti with 85 percent of the vote, according to data from the SGA Elections Board. Boretti, a freshman finance major, captured 15 percent of the vote, and there were 59 abstentions.
This year’s one-party election came after the entire Unity Party withdrew from the race following The Diamondback’s report that showed party leaders violating campaign finance rules. The party’s decision to end its candidacy came one day after candidates were permitted to begin campaigning on April 12.
While the Unity Party’s withdrawal left several seats uncontested, Pruitt said there were benefits in having multiple parties in the election, noting there was greater student involvement and talk of the election around the campus when another party was campaigning.
“I was disappointed in the outcome of it,” the junior economics and government and politics major said. “I thought they were a party that posed important issues, and I was excited to have a contested election. I think contested elections are important for the SGA, important for the student body, and in the end, they strengthen what the student government is trying to do.”
The Unity Party’s withdrawal highlighted a rules violation, but Boretti said the larger problem created was a lack of options for student voters. Between April 19 and April 21, about 2,235 students — about 8 percent of the undergraduate student body — cast ballots for SGA president, up from about 1,576 votes, or about 6 percent, in spring 2016. But in the spring 2007, 2008 and 2011 elections — all of which were contested between two parties — 20 percent, 15.3 percent and 14.5 percent of students voted, respectively.
“I don’t think it’s a good situation. … Obviously, there would be a little more conversation if the Unity Party hadn’t broken the rules,” Boretti said. “It’s a very unleveled playing field when you have one party with all the control and all the likelihood of winning, and as a result of that, people aren’t going to want to investigate [candidate platforms] that much.”
The spring 2016 SGA election was also uncontested, with Bold Party candidates elected to every position. J.T. Stanley, who was slated to run against Bold Party presidential candidate Katherine Swanson, missed the deadline to apply, and his appeal to the SGA Elections Board was unsuccessful, leaving a single ticket on the ballot.
An uncontested election in spring 2014 saw the lowest turnout in recent history, with 949 students casting votes for Patrick Ronk, who declared his candidacy after former candidate Josh Ratner was deemed ineligible to run due to a low GPA. Ronk, who had been running for student affairs vice president at the time, made the switch with less than two weeks until the election.
“We have this reoccurring theme that only one major party can get their foot in the door, and it needs to be looked at,” Pruitt said.
Despite the single-party nature of recent elections, Swanson, current SGA president, didn’t draw many parallels between the cycles.
“It’s really different than what I saw and experienced last year,” said Swanson, a senior government and politics major. “It sucks that we don’t have a more contested election, but there are rules, and you have to follow those rules, and it you don’t, we can’t just allow anyone to be a candidate.”
The SGA Elections Board outlined these rules on its website, saying potential candidates needed to meet a number of requirements — including having a minimum 2.0 GPA, registering for the election by March 31 and attending mandatory SGA and informational meetings — to be deemed eligible to run in this year’s race.
The election rules document also outlines guidelines for campaign finance, imposing a maximum $2,000 spending cap and mandating that every ticket and candidate disclose all contributions they receive, along with the contributor’s name, address and the date it was made. The Unity Party withdrew after failing to disclose donations from conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA in the form of various logo designs.
Rules are enforced by the SGA Elections Board, made up of five seniors who are unaffiliated with either party so they can remain unbiased, said Justin Edelman, the board’s chair.
Edelman said violations of campaign finance rules could lead to a candidate or ticket being disqualified, but it is up to the board’s discretion based on the information they find from an investigation. Edelman, a senior finance and government and politics major, noted the board never had to take these steps to look into the Unity Party’s finances.
“We were prepared to conduct an investigation, but we never conducted that investigation because the party withdrew before we were able to do it,” he said.
To avoid future uncontested elections, Boretti said if elected, he would have focused on ensuring students have more than one party to choose from by changing the rules and extending the campaign period by one week if a single ticket were running. The SGA should encourage competition, he said. The 10-day campaign cycle is already too short, as candidates don’t have enough time to genuinely listen to people’s concerns and students can’t understand candidates’ platforms, he said.
Boretti noted students have told him they didn’t hear about an opportunity to run for the SGA, and some didn’t know when voting was taking place, a disconnect leading to fewer candidates running and ballots cast.
The elections board takes some responsibility for spreading awareness of applying to run in the election, but the rest of the responsibility lies on the current legislature, Edelman said.
“We ordered signs and posted them around campus; we tried to advertise through our Facebook page,” he said. “We try to encourage people to run, and we also ask that current members of the legislature promote the election … We really just try to get the word out to as many people as possible.”
Regardless of the Unity Party’s withdrawal, Pruitt said he and the One Party continued canvassing, talking to students and allowing them to convey their opinions. He hopes to establish a specialized task force for the upcoming academic year to focus on increasing competition and voter turnout in future elections, he said.
“We do everything we can to make students aware of what’s going on and to make sure they know they can vote,” Swanson said. “It’s sad [that more people didn’t run], but I’m not worried about how much we’re doing or how much we’re engaging students because I feel like we’re doing the very best we can.”
Sydney Fazio, a junior journalism major, said she didn’t vote in this year’s election because she doesn’t consider herself to be involved with the student government.
“I wasn’t very informed, so I didn’t feel like I should make a decision or vote,” Fazio said. “It’s partially my own fault for not trying to actively stay involved … but maybe if more issues were covered that I had interest in, or they tried different methods of reaching out, I may have been more inclined to vote.”
Boretti also noted he was disappointed with the low attendance of non-SGA students at the first election debate on April 13 — held hours after the Unity Party dropped out — which showed that interest in and interaction with the SGA isn’t high enough, he said.
Despite the One Party being the only choice for most SGA positions, Pruitt said he was optimistic about what the group will accomplish in the upcoming year.
“I really believe in the message that my party has put forward; I really believe in the platform of the issues that we want to work on,” he said. “We are ready to get to work and start representing students.”
Staff writer Carly Taylor contributed to this report.