The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday March 21st

Candidates Cater to Potential New Voters

The candidates in this year's student elections feel that a higher voter turnout will force campaigns to solicit support from more than just major student organizations.

"In the past, if you hit the right groups, you'd probably win," said Carolina Athletic Association president candidate Reid Chaney. "Now you have to campaign to everyone."

Several candidates cited this year's Homecoming elections, which premiered online voting at UNC and boasted more than a 400 percent increase in turnout, as evidence that the number of voters Feb. 13 will escalate.

But Raj Mirchandani, a former student body president at N.C. State University who won the school's first election with online voting, said such an increase did not occur. He said the percentage of students voting went from about 10 percent to 12 percent.

Mirchandani said that while he did campaign to students who might not have voted in the absence of online ballots, he did not recommend relying on new voters to win an election. "You have to look at online voters as icing on the cake because you really don't know how many new people will be voting," he said. "You need to come into election day with a firm base of supporters."

But candidates said it is important to attract a wider range of students to their campaigns, and many of them are using new techniques to accomplish that goal.

"It's all about being creative," said student body president candidate Justin Young. "I want people to actively find out about my campaign instead of ramming it down their throats by harassing them on the phone or knocking on their door."

Young said he is trying to accomplish these goals by drawing students to his campaign Web site, an idea that is also being utilized by many election candidates to reach a larger percentage of the student body. "A Web page is something everyone can click on," said student body president candidate Annie Peirce. "If students are getting online to vote, and they have some doubts about the candidates, they can click on a few Web sites and hopefully be more confident in their vote."

Senior class president candidate Ben Singer said he and his running mate, Ursula Dimmling, are using their site to try and make themselves more accessible to the general student body through online surveys. "None of the ideas on my platform are my own," he said. "They all came through the surveys."

Many candidates said increased accessibility was necessary because students who do not traditionally follow student elections will be voting this year.

"It's not just going to be student organizations," said student body president candidate Caleb Ritter. "Lots of people will be voting, even if they don't know much about the campaign."

Mirchandani said he took advantage of online voting by attracting many such first-time voters, which he said he accomplished by informing them of the convenience of online voting.

"On election day, we tried to remind as many people as possible that they could vote right now if they just took a couple minutes out of the day," he said.

CAA president candidate Richard Kwok said he hopes the system will extend the ranks of new voters to the graduate and professional schools, who he said traditionally show apathy.

"A lot of the fliers have been targeted to undergrads, and the graduate students have been mostly ignored," he said. "But a lot of the graduate students will be encouraged to vote now."

Some candidates said the accessibility of online voting might also reduce the influence of major student organizations, who have voted as blocs in past elections. "I hope that the effect of online voting is that a disproportionate number of student organizations don't have as much control over the election," said CAA president candidate Michael Songer.

But Peirce said student organizations still will play a crucial role in this year's elections. "Almost every student is in some organization," she said. "I contacted all 400 student organizations last year, and I'm contacting them all again this year."

Most candidates, however, said they were placing extra focus on developing a platform that will appeal to students who are not heavily involved on campus. "The magic of this campaign is that the average Joe living in Hinton James (Residence Hall) just trying to pass his classes and work out in the SRC is going to vote," said student body president candidate Eric Johnson.

"Maybe he will decide the election."

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