Republicans and Democrats set up house on each side of the room, separated only by a table of cookies and lemonade. The neutral parties watched closely from each end, silently wondering what the next hour would reveal about BYU’s political tendencies.
The BYU Political Affairs Society put on the school’s first political convention of sorts Wednesday, in association with the university’s chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha.
Each candidate set up a table, complete with signage, giveaways and candy. The items handed out to students ranged from bumper stickers to t-shirts.
The party lines were clearly laid out, and students not wishing to show allegiance to one side or another had to congregate by the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the center or the Washington Seminar table in the back.
Other services available to students who attended included information about the BYU Political Review, SIGMA, BYU’s undergraduate journal of political science and international studies, voter registration and the opportunity to sign up as a volunteer for Utah Colleges Exit Poll, which, according to the flyer, is a university excused absence.
Chris Nichols, working the table for R-Jason Chaffetz, U.S. Representative for Utah’s 3rd congressional district, was happy to be at BYU for the event.
“Any help we can get to have a successful campaign is appreciated,” Nichols said. “We want to engage the younger demographic, so we were very excited when we were invited to come today.”
Volunteers for the Obama/Biden table were successfully selling election buttons and fielding questions from BYU students who had come to the event.
Soren Simonsen was one of the only candidates representing himself at the event. Simonsen, a Democrat running for congress in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, was enthusiastic about the opportunity to reach this younger demographic.
“Will more events like this be held?” Simonsen said, “and will you guys [the Universe] be covering them?”
Representatives from the Republican State Party were also present. Matt Melville, a volunteer at the booth, was offering a clipboard where students could register their interest in both volunteer and internship positions.
“The volunteer and internship positions are local, Salt Lake, Southern Utah, they’re everywhere,” Melville said. “They’re great opportunities for networking, and even though the positions end after elections, if the candidates get elected they might be looking to hire afterwards.”
The event was not an easy one to put together, but it was important to the organizations, said David Romney (distantly related to Mitt Romney), president of both BYUPAS and BYUPSA.
“We wanted to unite a group of parties without bias, while also making sure they were of interest to the students here,” Romney said. “We decided to invite any party with more than 10 percent of the vote in the past two elections and candidates in those parties of special interest to students.”
This led to the assembly of representatives of Democratic and Republican candidates for congress, senate, governor and president/vice president.
“We figured since it is an election year and there is a heightened interest because of the candidates, it was necessary to hold an event,” Romney said. “A lot of students want to get involved but don’t know how, and campaigns aren’t normally allowed on campus, so we wanted to do this service for the student body.”
BYUPAS is in the middle of planning another campus-wide event — an election night watch party on campus, November 6. It will provide an opportunity for Democrat and Republican students to come together in celebration. It will be advertised mainly in the SWKT and through membership group emails. More details are forthcoming.