Gonzaga University students vote this week in the first contested presidential election for student government in over three years, bringing a new energy to the annual spring election cycle.
The election between sophomore Roman Martinez and junior Griffin Reittinger intensified over the past weeks after a third candidate, Odalys Sanchez Cedillo, withdrew from the presidential race of the Gonzaga Student Body Association.
Election Commissioner Kyra Piper has helped organize this year’s competitive election process, including enforcing campaign rules between the two candidates. She said she has noticed changes in the election from previous years.
Piper said the competitive election has led students to be more concerned about who is representing them in the student body association, noting early in the election week a high voter turnout and engagement with the two presidential candidates’ campaigns.
“It's important that the students pick the person they think would best represent their wishes for the school,” Piper said. “I think that GSBA has a lot of power from the university through funding to be used. It's important that students make sure they have the people in office that they think would best distribute those funds and that power to make the best school possible.”
However, Piper also said there have been more concerns around election codes, particularly regarding club endorsement, and that a sudden decision by an additional candidate to withdraw from the election made the presidential race even more unusual from previous years.
Piper said the election codes were objected to in a nonpublic meeting by some candidates, including by one student running in the presidential election. The objections focused on changing a rule that would deregulate campus club endorsements, allowing student groups that a candidate is not affiliated with to announce support.
The objections to the codes were denied on the desire, according to Piper, to reflect more on how a change might affect the election. She emphasized the slow, comprehensive process of making such changes and the role of the codes in creating equitable elections.
“The election codes aim to design [the elections] to not be a popularity contest, and that's where some of my concerns about the changes that some candidates wanted to make,” Piper said. “I was just concerned how it might change elections to be more in favor of being a popularity contest, and like I said, integrity and equity is really big for me on this election.”
This sentiment to make the election equitable was also supported by Martinez and Reittinger, who said the competitive race brings a valuable opportunity for students to feel empowered to make a decision on who will best represent them as head of student government.
Martinez said the election has become important because of the competitive nature to be more refined about their positions and qualifications in the campaign process as both have organized social media and tabling campaigns.
“Since students don't agree on everything, since there are multiple possible solutions for some of the problems they face, it's important that the students at the end of the day are the ones that get to make the choice on what's the best course of action,” Martinez said.
Martinez and Reittinger have marketed themselves as experienced and relatable presidential candidates, with both bringing a background as paid cabinet members in student government this year.
Martinez, the speaker of the senate, has promised a focus on hiring diverse mental health counselors and making period products more accessible, while Reittinger, attorney general, has campaigned on the pillars of relationality, stewardship and intersectionality.
“It empowers students more to have more choices in their elected officials, for there to be competition, because it makes the people in the competition more passionate, stronger,” Reittinger said.
Piper, Martinez and Reittinger all encouraged students to vote in the election through Zagtivities.