Elections are built for match-ups — candidates battle it out to win the office they are running for.
But that’s not exactly the case for University of South Dakota junior Sami Zoss and sophomore Michael Buchanan, who are running unopposed in the upcoming Student Government Association presidential election.
After their opposition, junior Nick Henchal and sophomore Chelsea Gilbertson, dropped out of the SGA presidential race in January, Zoss and Buchanan became the lone team running for SGA executive office.
Even though Zoss and Buchanan must have the majority of voters check ‘yes’ on a yes-no ballot, they recognize there is more security in victory.
“We still have to win on a ‘yes’ vote,” Zoss said. “But at the same time, you don’t get as nervous about, ‘What are (the opponents) saying, what are they doing, are they matching us?’”
Even with the added security of almost certain victory, there are disadvantages to running unopposed, Buchanan said.
“Some of the disadvantages to running unopposed is it doesn’t necessarily generate as much interest. People don’t see it as like, ‘Oh, we have this choice between these candidates and these candidates. I want to learn about both of them so I can make this decision,’” he said. “So the thing we have been focusing on a lot is trying to make students aware that there is still actually a campaign going on.”
The lack of opposition means the yearly election debate will be particularly lonely this year. Since Zoss and Buchanan have no opponent, they can’t debate with someone. When the Cross Media Council hosts its SGA presidential debate, it will be more like a panel.
“The thing that a usual debate has that this one won’t is time,” Zoss said. “We would answer and then the next one they would answer first. Well, this time, we’re in the spotlight the whole time.”
The one-sided “debate” will give the team a chance to simply talk with their peers and constituents, Buchanan said.
“I think an important way to look at it, too, is instead of having a debate now where it’s one side is trying to say this, other side is trying to say that, and it’s a lot of push back and forth in some instances,” Buchanan said. “This is more of an opportunity for an open discussion that we can have with the Cross Media Council, with the students in the audience.”
Zoss also sees the panel as another chance to spread the word on their platform.
“It seems like it’s the same sort of idea — it’s just we won’t have another group answering the same questions,” Zoss said. “It’s just giving us another chance to get what we want out (to students).”
(Junior Sami Zoss and sophomore Michael Buchanan are the sole candidates running for the Student Government Association presidential election. Volante Staff / The Volante)
Hometown: Beresford, S.D.
Majors: Criminal Justice, Political Science
SGA Experience: Two years, current External Communications Manager. She has served as an Arts & Sciences representative and served on the State and Local committee. Zoss is a former member of the Student Affairs committee.
Notable USD Activities: Kappa Alpha Theta sorority member, Criminal Justice Club, Dakotathon, Lost & Found, Mock Trial.
Hometown: Aberdeen, S.D.
Majors: Medical Biology, Psychology
SGA Experience: One year. Buchanan has served on the Budget Hearing committee, Finance committee and the University Honors committee.
Notable USD Activities: Delta Tau Delta fraternity member, InterFraternity Council, Dakotathon, undergraduate research at the Lee Medical School.
Top priorities if elected
Sami Zoss: The main thing is actual outreach. Not just social media, not all that stuff, but actually going to your classes, saying, “Hey, I’m Sami Zoss, I’m an Arts & Sciences Senator. I’m here to represent you. Anything you need, you come to me.” That’s one of our huge main focuses because I know I didn’t do it very well as a senator, and I know that it wasn’t pushed very well when I was a senator. And so it’s just making sure that we are doing our job as outreach. That’s the hugest, hugest thing that we need to get sort of going right when we get into office.
Michael Buchanan: The other thing I’m kind of looking for, serving on the budget hearing committee and on the finance committee, is making sure students are aware of the resources they have through SGA and what they can do for them. Just going around and getting petitions and things like that, I’ve really realized that some students aren’t aware of how much they can be helped by the budget process, or they don’t even know how to use it once they have gotten budgeting. That’s something I really hope that we can push as a Senate… making students aware of their resources and how they can access them and really how they can make SGA work for them.
Deciding to run
SZ: We were actually sitting at ‘Yote Floats, and we were thinking about sort of the vision for SGA. I got to sit on the strategic planning committee last year. And so I sort of know where us as a Senate wanted SGA to be in five years or so and where we wanted to be going. And I have such a passion for SGA that I was trying to figure out where it was going to be going and what my part was going to be in it. And, I think it was Michael and there was one other senator, and they were almost joking with me about “Oh, you should just run.” And then I got really nervous, because I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I never thought about it.” And then I looked at Michael and I was like, “Well, I’m only going to run if you run with me.”
MB: There really wasn’t much to it. It was about the week before announcements even. It was at the point where it was like “We either have to do this or not do this.” And Sami was like “Well, If I’m going to do it, I need someone to do it with me, and I haven’t talked to anyone about it.” And she said that if she was going to run, she wanted me to run with her. And I thought, “Well, if I can figure out my classes and stuff this semester right now and try to get ahead of it, then yeah, for sure I’ll run.”
Importance of student-SGA-administration relationship
MB: My main thing is we are lucky with the administration we do have. President Abbott cares so much about the student voice and student opinion and the same with Dean Grieve. And everybody else on the administration knows how important the student voice is to President Abbott, Dean Grieve, all those higher ups. And so it’s sort of our job as SGA to make sure the student voice is being heard, and heard correctly. President Abbott isn’t as connected to the students. He tries to be, and you know he’s out and he’s present and all that stuff, but in the end, we’re the students, and we should know what the other students want a little bit more. So, when President Abbott comes to us with a question or something, we should be able to tell him because we’ve been talking to our constituents.
SZ: The main importance of having the students and SGA have a relationship is really just the communications there. So, if there is an issue the students have, like as a whole on campus or just a small portion of campus, they know that they can reach out. The whole point of SGA really, and the relationship with the students, is just a communicating body between the students, the administrators, faculty, the Board of Regents and all those different entities that students usually don’t have the capacity to reach out to by themselves.