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Dilf disrupts: Fake candidate siphons votes in otherwise uncontested election

Infographic by Anna Chung

By Hadley Medlock     3/7/23 9:32pm

Solomon Ni will serve as the next Student Association president, receiving 67% of the votes in the formally uncontested presidential election. “Dilf Hunter,” a fake candidate created by the Thresher Backpage, received 22% of the vote in a satirical write-in campaign, and 10% went to other write-in candidates.

A total of 665 votes were cast in the presidential election, with a voter turnout of 15.02%, down from last year’s 26.81%.

Alison Qiu will serve as next year’s internal vice president, Crystal Unegbu will serve as the next external vice president and Yuv Sachdeva will serve as the next treasurer. All three of these positions were also uncontested. 

A special election will have to be held for the position of secretary, as 380 blank votes left the race without a winner. Imaje Harvey, a Sid Richardson College freshman, ran a write-in campaign that received 26% of the votes with 174 ballots, and Dilf Hunter received 110 votes, good for 17%.

Spencer Powers, the SA’s director of elections, said he believes a large part of the lower voter turnout was due to the slate of uncontested candidates. Students may have felt that their votes did not necessarily matter, he said.

Additionally, Powers was unconvinced that Dilf Hunter’s performance suggested discontent with the SA.

“I don’t think the popularity of ‘Dilf Hunter’ means that much regarding how seriously the student body can take the SA,” Powers said. “Had there been more candidates on the ballot, I doubt that as many people would have voted for him.”

On the other hand, Bria Weisz, last year’s director of elections, said she felt that the write-in of Dilf Hunter is indicative of the SA’s recent inability to be taken seriously. 

“Honestly, I really appreciate the movement for Dilf Hunter as a way of students demonstrating their disapproval of the Student Association,” Weisz, a Brown College senior, said. “[It] shows that [students] have the power to organize themselves in a meaningful way, but they’re obviously not using that energy to support the current state of the Student Association.”

Write-in races lead to special elections

Powers said that a special election will be held for the secretary position, as well as two other unfilled positions — a sophomore and senior Honor Council representative. Incidentally, Dilf Hunter received the most votes of the write-in candidates for the Honor Council seats. 

Normally, an instant runoff election would be held in which voters who ranked the least popular candidate as their first choice would be able to shift their ballots to their second ranked choice instead. However, because this was just a write-in campaign with no true second choices, a lack of preferences in the race will not allow this type of runoff election to happen. 

“The real issue is that we made a mistake in the first place in having that election happen at all,” Powers said. “No one noticed [the constitution] says that if nobody runs for a position, like secretary, that you’re not supposed to have a write-in campaign at all. [It’s] supposed to go directly to a special election after the general election is concluded.”

Though the timeline has not been solidified yet, Powers said the special election should happen in the coming weeks, and the SA will be accepting petitions to run for the open positions from anybody that wants to. The special election will function similarly to the first round of voting, with a week of ranked-choice voting following the petition deadline. 

Low engagement

Weisz said she thinks a significant barrier to student engagement with the SA has come from a junior class that couldn’t find community during peak COVID, as well as a lack of pay for student leadership roles. 

“The junior class in particular has never, in my experience, felt a huge pull towards the student community at Rice because they matriculated in the middle of COVID,” Weisz said. “I think the whole thing is kind of pointing to a larger issue of people not feeling like they want to work for the school in that way … it’s ridiculous how people put so much time and effort into the school and don’t really get much in return for it.”

While Weisz said she has no doubt the next Executive Council will step into their positions well, she also believes the uncontested races and lack of choice in the election will make student body engagement with the SA more difficult this coming year. 

“I can tell there is a huge [sense of] apathy towards the Student Association recently,” Weisz said, “And I don’t expect that to get better anytime soon.”

Despite low voter turnout and satirical write-in candidates, Ni said he was proud to see the turnout for voting on blanket tax status for two organizations, an initiative they have been working on since their time as SA treasurer this past year. 

“There weren’t a lot of things on the ballot that were salient to the student body. I think the most salient points, and the ones I’m most proud of, are the fact that the Rice Women’s Resource Center and Civic Duty Rice got approved for blanket tax status,” Ni said. 

Qiu said that while the voter turnout this year was disappointing, it was expected. She said she hopes to help encourage more campus connection to the SA, as well as reorganize their standing committees, during her time as IVP, hopefully encouraging more voter turnout next year. 

“One thing we’re going to talk about in our next meeting is not combining the committees but reorganizing the standing committees,” Qiu said. “[We also will] potentially talk about keeping the SA information more up-to-date on the website and think about more ways to do outreach across the campus in terms of hosting more events or fostering more of a sense of connection with the students.” 

Beginning his term as president, Ni said he is first ready to start working on internal improvements to the SA during their first Senate on March 20. 

“The executive committee and I have talked a lot about what we want to see in regards to the next Student Association in regards to internal engagement, as well as what we can do to better communicate to the public [and be] more transparent about the actions we’re doing, like having resolutions public,” Ni said. “Hopefully that happens when the first Senate arrives, and hopefully we set a good tone for that.”

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