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Site hosts debate to fill void

Election commission opted not to have SBP debate

Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 23:02

Citing low student participation, the Texas A&M Election Commission chose not to pursue student body president debates this election season. As a result, an online SBP debate emerged, allowing students to both interact with their candidates and learn more about what each candidate hopes to accomplish if elected.

AskAgs.com, an online question-and-answer forum launched last year, has hosted an online debate.

The election commission has traditionally held debates with the candidates. Allison Krenzien, election commissioner, said previous debates netted low student turnout and the commission opted to produce and distribute an informational candidate guide this year in hopes of reaching more students.

The virtual debate allows visitors to post questions for the candidates and to vote on questions they want answered. The questions receiving the most votes are given to the candidates to answer, with all candidate responses being posted by the website simultaneously.

Tyler Mandry, founder of AskAgs.com and senior computer science and applied mathematics double major, said AskAgs constructed the virtual debate to give students a way to interact directly with their SBP candidates. He said the virtual debate affords students the ability to learn details about candidates’ platforms, rather than just hearing names as they walk around campus.

“I realized, especially with the SBP campaigns, most of what all it involved was standing outside and yelling at people,” Mandry said. “That’s all well and good, but a lot of people weren’t really interested in learning about the candidates themselves and what they stood for. The reason most people didn’t is because it’s really hard to do that. You have to go to a bunch of different websites and read really long articles about them.”

Mandry said while the virtual debate can provide increased accessibility and responsiveness, a potential downside to the online format is the lack of personal interaction between students and candidates.

“I think the pros are that anyone can participate, anyone can submit a question,” Mandry said. “You get a response directly back from the candidate, so I think that’s pretty cool. However, the fact that it’s online means that you don’t get that a person-to-person interaction with the candidates, but most people don’t get to do that with all the candidates anyways.”

A key feature of a traditional debate is the discourse between candidates, a characteristic that does not translate well online. Mandry said this aspect of the format both benefits and detracts from the
virtual debate.

“With a traditional debate, you’ll see one candidate answer, and then the other candidate will play off that candidates’ answer,” Mandry said. “With this one, the virtual debate, we decided to have all the candidates give their answers, and then post them simultaneously, so that way no candidate has a disadvantage. In that way it’s a pro, but it also makes it harder for candidates to play off each other’s answers and show what’s unique about them.”

Mandry said the response to the virtual debate has been positive and participation has been high. However, Mandry said he hopes more people will feel comfortable posting questions for the candidates, instead of just voting on questions.

“We had our best traffic day ever just because of the debate,” Mandry said. “Right now, a lot of people are looking at it. We want people to feel like they can participate. A lot of people prefer to browse, instead of putting themselves out there and asking a question. We’d like to encourage people to ask more questions.”

Freshman geophysics major Cassandra Vallecilla said the virtual aspect of the debate resonates with technologically-inclined students who are more comfortable expressing their opinion and asking questions online rather than in person.

“I believe an online debate is a good idea because this generation communicates mostly through social media, therefore they’d be more knowledgeable and be more willing to give an opinion and care,” Vallencilla said.

Mandry said the debate allows students to cast a ballot based on conscientious decision making rather than superficial qualities and maximizes their ability to impact campus.

“Without something like this, we devolve into a popularity contest, and that’s not how I want to choose my student body president,” Mandry said. “Students really need to realize that there are issues that really affect our lives that the student body president can change. This is a way for student to have an influence on their university, by participating in the
election process.”

 

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