In what was the closest election in recent memory, Jonté D. Craighead ’13 and Michael P. Walsh ’13 were elected Undergraduate Association (UA) president and vice president last Friday.
Craighead and Walsh fended off a strong UA-outsider campaign waged by Naren P. Tallapragada ’13 and Andrew C. Yang ’13, taking 683 first-place votes compared to Tallapragada/Yang’s 667. The UA uses a preferential voting system in which students rank tickets; weaker tickets are successively eliminated and those votes go to whoever was picked second, and then third, and so on.
Brendan T. Deveney ’13 and Mary A. Breton ’14 also ran an outsider campaign, taking 323 first-place votes. Including write-ins, 1,712 ballots (39 percent of undergrads) were cast for UA President/Vice President, up about 23 percent from last year (but then, there was only one ticket to vote for).
After the Deveney/Breton ticket was eliminated from the preferential voting system, Craighead/Walsh led Tallapragada/Yang 804 to 766. Voters who originally picked Deveney/Breton tended to slightly favor Craighead/Walsh in their rank-two preference.
UA presidential elections are usually decided by much larger first-place margins, especially when they pitch “insiders” versus “outsiders.” Vrajesh Y. Modi ’11 and Samantha G. Wyman ’11 won the 2010 elections by a 1,135 vote margin. And in 2009, Michael A. Bennie ’10 and Margaret K. Delano ’10 nearly tripled the first-place vote count of the runners-up.
The close race may be at least partly attributable to a huge get-out-the-vote effort by the Tallapragada/Yang campaign, which took advantage of traditional campus advertising methods but also pushed their message via social networks.
“We had a lot of very passionate supporters on campus who happen to be all years from freshman to seniors, pretty much all majors,” said Tallapragada in an interview with The Tech yesterday. He also noted that their support tended to come from fraternities, West Campus dormitories, and athletic groups.
But Tallapragada also said that the campaign’s efforts were somewhat grassroots in nature. “We didn’t give anybody a formula,” he explained. “[Our supporters] came out and said whatever came out of the bottom of their heart.”
“Every ticket ran a really great campaign,” said Craighead, specifically noting Tallapragada/Yang’s Facebook effort. “The amount of visibility that each had was very, very high.”
Craighead and Walsh will be the first elected pair to run a newly-restructured UA. They will also have to manage a relationship with a new Institute president and likely handle issues regarding orientation, dormitory security, dining, and MITx.
And though specific plans are not yet formulated, during the campaign Craighead and Walsh said they would pursue a “Cookies and Conversation”-style series of meetings with undergraduates, work to improve the UA’s internal identity as a “team,” and pursue “collaborative” relationships with Institute administrators.
Craighead said the his administration would also emphasize solidarity with the Graduate Student Council in representing the interests of the student body as a whole. Craighead and GSC President-elect Brian L. Spatocco G first met as members of the search committee to find now-Dean for Residential Life Henry J. Humphreys, and Craighead said the two governments will be releasing a joint vision statement soon.
“The UA and GSC can really get some amazing things done on campus when we work together,” said Craighead, adding that faculty were “impressed” with how well the two groups have been working together on the presidential search process.
A revamped Spring Weekend is also on the agenda for Craighead and Walsh. This year, they say, Spring Weekend should have more UA-sponsored events as a “first stab at making the event a lot larger and involving more people,” including a movie-on-the-lawn and a barbecue.
Craighead and Walsh say they will meet with the two losing tickets to determine in what ways Tallapragada, Yang, Deveney, and Breton can contribute to student governance. Tallapragada noted that his campaign’s strength in communication — as evidenced by the close race — is something the UA could incorporate, and he would want to help.
Yang said that, for the time being, he will “refocus” his energy on the student groups he is already a part of, but that he would consider serving in the next UA administration if asked. First, though, he would want to hear more about Craighead and Walsh’s plans for reforming the organization.