SGA election reform committee eyes more meaningful representation strategy

By Anthony Rentsch

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Kabir Thatte, junior chairman of Administrative Affairs for the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association, is the first person to admit that not everything is well with the election process of the SGA.

An election that had only 3,352 of the 22,000 UMass undergraduates vote, combined with a pair of recent elections which raised concerns over senatorial representation, prompted Sionan Barrett, speaker of the SGA Senate, SGA members and students to come together to reform the election process.

The committee met for the first time on Sept. 29 with one goal in mind: re-apportion the SGA Senate seats. As it is, senators are elected based on which residential area they live in.

However, Thatte pointed out this process does not make sense.

Senators do not necessarily advocate for their areas because separate area governments take care of that duty. Thatte said as far as the SGA is concerned, residential areas “are just there for the purpose of the election.”

The election reform committee is tasked with developing a more meaningful representation strategy. Current proposals include apportioning seats based on academic college – something Thatte said would provide more academic diversity – graduation year or even having all senators run at-large.

Representation by residential area, the current method, has a number of flaws, and those involved promise the new method chosen will provide better representation. Most notably, Opinion and Editorial Editor of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Zac Bears, pointed out commuter students are more disconnected from campus life, and therefore competition for senate seats for the commuter district, which is the Senate’s largest district, was not that stiff.

This year, three senators were elected to represent the commuter district while receiving less than 10 votes.

Barrett said the committee hopes to develop a new representation plan and put forward a motion at one of the last two SGA meetings of the semester. If all goes according to plan, the changes will be enacted into the bylaws before the SGA breaks for winter recess.

However, simply reforming the representation system is not enough. What many SGA members are concerned about is the low student voter turnout this fall.

“SGA is a substantial part of people’s lives, whether they know it or not,” Thatte said. In addition to providing funding for Registered Student Organizations, the SGA also acts as the student body’s voice in discussions with school officials.

“The SGA has to figure out why students don’t become involved,” Thatte said.

Barrett noted there seems to be a disconnect between students and the SGA. Voting participation numbers are so low, she said, because “not a lot of people know that elections are going on or because they do not understand what SGA does.”

The way to achieve this end, it seems, is increased and refined outreach. For one, Barrett said SGA has to figure out how to reach out beyond e-mail and Facebook.

However, as Thatte said, it will take efforts from the students’ end, too, in order to achieve a more representative and democratic student government.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected]