SGA election reforms address some, but not all concerns

By Anthony Rentsch

(Christina Yacono/Flickr)
(Christina Yacono/Flickr)

The Student Government Association has taken steps to address at least some of the concerns with the election process raised last fall.

According to Kabir Thatte, chair of the Administrative Affairs Committee, the SGA has instituted three new major election policies that will kick into effect this semester: separation of the undergraduate president/vice president and student trustee campaigns, raising of campaign budgets for individual campaigns – both president/vice president and student trustee – from $75 to $150 and an interview process for election commissioners through the Administrative Affairs Committee.

Additionally, Charlotte Kelly, director of Women’s Affairs under the SGA’s Secretary of Diversity, said that Registered Student Organizations are no longer able to publically endorse campaigns, something that she finds troubling.

“(RSO) voices are just as valid as those of every day students,” Kelly said.

Although a student-led election reform committee was formed last fall and met weekly, it produced no “tangible results,” Thatte said in a recent email.

The reforms for the spring elections came though the Administrative Affairs Committee, which used some of the ideas formulated in the Election Reform Committee.

Emily Devenney, special assistant to the Diversity and Student Engagement Committee and a member of the Election Reform Committee, said that the decision to split the president/vice president and trustee campaigns was the most important change to come out of the process.

According to Devenney, the trustee position is one that represents both undergraduate and graduate students. With the trustee included in the undergraduate president/vice president ticket, there was another degree of separation between the trustee and his or her constituents.

Last spring’s election brought this dynamic to the surface, when the ticket of Ellie Miske, Gabrielle Cook and Devenney was invalidated. According to Emily O’Neil, Diversity and Student Engagement Committee chair, graduate students were unhappy that an undergraduate election commission removed their trustee choice.

“It gives graduate students more agency over the election through the student trustee,” Devenney said of the reform.

“In terms of representing the graduate population holistically, the separation of the president/vice president and student trustee is really helpful,” Chancellor of Elections Divya Kirti added. “It gives graduate students a more concrete contact person.”

Kirti said that, logistically, this reform does create some issues.

In the past, not only have president and vice president candidates been able to openly support a trustee candidate, students also worked on both parties’ campaigns. With the separation of the ballot, campaign staffers are not allowed to work for two campaigns.

“It becomes complicated (to enforce),” Kirti said. “What are the guidelines for students on campaign staffs? It is something we need to clear up in the future.”

The campaign budget increase is a side effect of that president/vice president-trustee separation. The increase is supposed to accommodate for the fact that president/vice president tickets and trustees candidates can no longer join their campaigns and pool resources.

“It made sense to increase the access to funds for every standalone ticket,” Thatte said.

Kirti said that she anticipates the amount of printed campaign literature will go up along with the extra money in campaign budgets.

In the future, Devenney said that some minor changes to the bylaws will allow for more “creative campaigning tactics,” apart from just printing campaign literature. For instance, starting next spring, candidates will be allowed to use their campaign funds at multiple vendors instead of just at Campus Design & Copy.

O’Neil, however, expressed concern that this reform would demote money being spent at student businesses.

Kelly added that the interview process for elections commissioners through the Administrative Affairs Committee could pose a conflict of interest if and when a committee member runs for office. In this election, for instance, its chair, Thatte, is running for trustee.

Despite these reforms, the SGA did not decide to act upon one of the core issues surrounding last fall’s election.

When the election reform committee was created last semester, Thatte told the Collegian that a more meaningful senatorial representation was a priority. However, this concern was not addressed in the reforms.

“The reason that there is no change is that there was a lot of talk and no agreement,” Devenney said.

Thatte added: “It was absolutely crucial to finish any and all changes to the current election before the Spring 2015 semester began.”

Devenney said that proposals to apportion senatorial seats based on class year and academic college, rather than residential area, were aired but ultimately shot down.

The class year representation system raised concerns of disadvantaging first year students while the academic college system was worrisome because it could potentially encourage highly competitive elections in some colleges, like the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, which encompasses the political science major and less competitive elections in other colleges.

Although Thatte said that a new senatorial representation strategy was one of the goals of the Administrative Affairs Committee this semester, O’Neil believes that with several of the committee members now running for office, including Thatte, it is unlikely any further reforms will be made this semester.

“There is talking, but a large potential for nothing getting done,” she said.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.