Eric Reznicek has a good poker face.
He held it for about three minutes after he answered his cellphone on a Tuesday night last March, surrounded by a group of Engage party members and supporters at Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. The baskets of chips and Styrofoam cups of queso went unnoticed as Reznicek, a senior finance and marketing major, listened to the results of the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska runoff election.
And then he threw his fists in the air and told them the news – Engage had garnered a majority of the votes from the runoff election, which brought in a record-breaking 16 percent voter turnout.
The next University of Nebraska-Lincoln student government election on March 12 won’t have such a dramatic conclusion – Ignite for ASUN is the only party running. The lack of competition may seem strange, just a year after Engage ran against two other parties with a record-breaking 23 percent voter turnout followed by a runoff election when no party managed to obtain the necessary majority. But in fact, Ignite might be part of a new trend of uncontested parties. The elections of 2005, 2007 and 2011 were all single-party years – the only uncontested elections, according to ASUN records going back to 1967. The year in between was a heated three-party election, much like last year’s.So why did the involvement and passion suddenly drop off?
The short answer: exhaustion.
“A lot of people get burned out after the three-party elections,” Reznicek said.
UNL alumnus Justin Solomon agreed. Solomon ran in three back-to-back three-party elections from 2008 to 2010 and won the presidential candidacy with the N VISION party in 2010.
“People get a little gun shy after a knock-down, drag-out election,” Solomon said. “They are cognizant of what happened in previous elections and are less interested in jumping into the fray.”
Though Ignite presidential candidate Kevin Knudson feels confident that he will get the executive office, he wishes there was a little competition.
“I think the competitive campaigns are fun and everyone gets more involved,” said Knudson, a junior political science major. “Plus, when you are not forced to check your platforms, you can kind of get into that groupthink that all of our ideas are great.”
There are other possible reasons for the lack of parties. Students don’t want to run against their friends, or they are already overinvolved and can’t commit the time to an election. And people aren’t going to run if they don’t think they can win, said L.J. McElravy, a member of the ASUN Electoral Committee and Agricultural Leadership Education and Communication teaching and research assistant.
“Sometimes, that cycle is simply caused by pragmatic analysis,” McElravy said. “They look at who is running and decide if they can beat them.”
Ignite’s platforms – protecting students’ rights and safety, connecting with students and collaborating with senators to further their personal projects – were written with the expectation of competition, Knudson said. Involved in ASUN since his freshman year, Knudson said he knew what it would take to win.
“Our platforms were made battle-ready — we didn’t sell ourselves short, and we didn’t promise the sky,” he said. “So without the battle, those ideas are just as strong.”
Both Reznicek and Knudson agreed that promising too much is a pitfall that may stem from competition.
“There is the potential for one-upmanship in multi-party campaigns,” Knudson said. “Sometimes that leads to improvement, but sometimes it’s a deviation from strong original platforms.”
Though Reznicek said he still stands behind his platforms, he admits that thinking about the other two parties may have weakened Engage’s ideas, which revolved around increased sustainability and increased student involvement.
“As we were shaping our platforms, of course we thought what would garner us the most voter support,” Reznicek said. “This year’s party might have a benefit in that regard – they can look solely at what they want to accomplish without thinking about the popular vote.”
Environmental sustainability and student involvement have been platform buzzwords for at least one party in almost every ASUN election since the ’80s. Sustainability looked different in the 1980s than it does today, but it’s still a relevant issue, said Kaitlin Coziahr, internal vice president of the Engage party and a senior economics, finance and management major.
“If the ideas keep growing, the repetition of platforms isn’t a bad thing,” she said. “It’s not about repeating goals; it’s about evolving them and finding new ways to reach them.”
“I know people criticize that they keep hearing the same things over and over, but what we are working on is valuable and takes more than one term to get it done,” he said. “The things of value usually can’t get done in one term.”
Spending cuts and a reduction in student fees have also been popular platform points.
“To look at dropping or keeping fees the same, that’s something the party can’t necessarily accomplish,” Coziahr said. “Feasibility is important in platform writing so we don’t keep bring up issues that we can’t control.”
Without other parties, the obligatory ASUN debate will be adapted to an open forum, which will be hosted by the Daily Nebraskan on Thursday. The DailyER Nebraskan adapted its “Mass Debate” to a debate between a satirical party, #Party, and Ignite. Knudson hopes students come to the debates and voice their concerns.
One benefit of not having competition, Knudson said, is having extra time. The time and energy originally delegated to gaining votes can go toward listening to students and administration. And those conversations don’t start with the hypothetical, “If we win,” but rather, “What can we start doing now?”
Knudson foresees another benefit to the one-party election is that there won’t be a split government next year. It’s a challenge that Reznicek and Coziahr faced at the beginning of their term. It’s hard to switch mentalities from competitive to collaborative, said Reznicek.
“We certainly had bridges to mend after our election,” Reznicek said. “A group that doesn’t have competition can hit the ground running without relationships to rebuild, and that might work in their favor.”
Historically, voter turnout in single-party elections tends to be low. The 2007 election saw the lowest turnout ever at only 3.9 percent when the Run party ran uncontested. That same level of apathy wasn’t seen in 2010, though, when about 13 percent of the student population came to vote.
Ignite candidates hope to bring in a similarly high percentage and wants students to know what their votes represent.
“Regardless of the number of parties, voting shows you care where your money is going and what your administration is going to do for you,” Knudson said.
To be elected, the party still has to get a majority of the vote over write-in candidates. Ballots also give students the opportunity to vote on individual appropriations of student fees, which Coziahr and Knudson said should be a student concern.
And even if the voter turnout is low, Knudson said he knows those who show up to vote will be passionate. Reznicek agreed. He ran as a senator with Action Party in the single-party 2011 election and knows the kind of people who cast their votes in uncontested elections.
“You will have more intimately involved students voicing their opinion, and that’s a better crowd-sourcing opportunity,” he said.
And just because they are the only party, doesn’t mean Ignite isn’t motivated to talk to all potential voters. Besides the open forum, Ignite candidates plan to talk to a diverse group of students. It’s a strategy that worked for Engage last year. The party reached out to the Greek system, traditional housing residents, as well as off campus students to get a variety of perspectives, Coziahr said.
“I think the strategy of meeting and listening to people needs to be consistent no matter how many parties are running,” she said. “You are representing all of these people regardless.”
And that representation can be successful and meaningful despite a single party year, McElravy said. “No matter who wins or how many people ran, there is always the potential for positive impact on the student body,” he said. “Dedication is consistent despite any cycles we see.”
(First party: winner)
1984: Anarky, Reach, Spare, Action
1985: Unite, U.S., Fashin, Aim, Don Ho
1986: Excel, Impact, Party, Scum, Simple
1987: Unite, Aim, Nudeal, Huge, Trek, Frog
1988: Action, Voice
1989: Pride, Slumber, Impact, B.E.E.R.
1990: Today, Vision, Stand
1991: Change, Energy, Unity, Horizn
1992: Action, Commit
1993: Party, Voice
1994: Vision, Resume
1995: Impact, Lettuce, Access, Cut Cost
1996: Action, Office
1997: Advance, K.E.G.
1998: Vision, Commit
1999: Voice, Focus
2000: A-Team, Impact, Empower, Duff
2001: Score!, No Bull, The One, NU Force
2002: Boo Yah, Lucky, GDI
2003: College, Sausage, Foam
2004: Streaker, X-the Ordinary Party
2006: Npower, Action, uCan
2008: BRIGHT, Ignite, All’N
2009: CONNECT, Hope and Change, CONCRETE
2010: N VISION, FUSION, RENEW
2012: IMPACT, Party
2013: Engage, Revive, Sense