The Student Association Senate will debate a bill Monday that would create substantial changes to the way student body elections are conducted.
The proposals, released publicly last week, were drafted by an SA Senate committee tasked with reforming the Joint Elections Committee – the student body that oversees the elections – after complaints of harassment and stalking rocked the SA presidential election last spring. The JEC disqualified one candidate from the race and the SA was left without president-elect until Peak Sen Chua, who had been elected executive vice president, assumed the role.
In the aftermath, amid calls for reform and public backlash about the handling of the elections, SA senators passed a bill in September forming a new Senate committee to examine how to change rules governing the JEC.
Proposed reforms to the charter were released last week, but Executive Vice President Sydney Nelson postponed debate about the bill to leave time for public comment.
Most of the effects of the proposed new charter won’t take effect until next academic year if passed, but before the bill hits the floor for debate next week, here are four main changes you should know:
1. A new name and more members
If the new bill is passed, the Joint Elections Committee would be no more – instead replaced by the Joint Elections Commission.
The Commission would be comprised of seven members instead of five. Currently, all JEC members are appointed by the SA president and leaders of Class Council or Program Board, but the new bill would create a position called the elections commissioner, who would be elected by the student body during the spring with other elections and serve as commissioner the following year.
The proposal also mandates that there be at least two graduate members on the JEC in the new charter, one of whom would be appointed by the SA president and the other by the Program Board chair. Last year, all members of the JEC were undergraduates.
2. Fleshed-out campaign violation procedures
The JEC was heavily criticized last spring after unredacted versions of election complaints were filed on the body’s website, listing personal information of both complainants and those accused of harassment and stalking.
The new bill would require the JEC to guarantee that election complaints secure the confidentiality of the individuals involved, excluding candidates and complainants, before they are published. The public documents would then redact all names except for the candidate and the complainant.
The new charter also requires the JEC to refer certain complaints – like those that involve breaking local and federal laws or the code of conduct – to “the appropriate judicial authority.” In the spring, JEC members faced criticism when students said they were not qualified to make determinations on accusations like stalking – a criminal charge.
In the proposed bill, all candidates penalized for election violations will have the infractions listed alongside their name on the election ballot.
3. A revamped voting process
Currently, SA elections are determined by a simple majority where a candidate who receives the most votes wins their race.
Under the proposed changes, voters would rank the candidates instead of picking only their top choice or choices, depending on if the position has one or more spots available. A single candidate – as in the case of SA’s president or executive vice president – would win if they received more than 50 percent of the “first choice” votes.
If no candidate received more than 50 percent of the “first choice” votes, then the candidate who was ranked first the fewest number of times would be eliminated, and any votes ranking that candidate in the top spot would be reallocated to the candidate who is listed as the “second choice” on those ballots. The process would then be repeated until a candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote.
4. Lower spending limits
The affordability of SA elections has been a long-standing point of concern for candidates. Last year, Executive Vice President Sydney Nelson outspent Chua in her unsuccessful executive vice presidential race, dropping about $360 on palm cards, flyers and posters.
The year before, SA candidates spent less than ever before on their campaigns amid affordability concerns, and former SA president Erika Feinman spent about $500 on their successful campaign for president. In 2016, the SA Senate voted to cap election spending at $600 for presidential and executive vice presidential races, but the proposed JEC reform bill limits spending for the SA’s two top posts even further to $300.
Under current JEC rules, candidates for undergraduate-at-large senate seats can dole out up to $350, but that number is whittled down to $150 in the proposed bill. All other SA candidates can spend up to $250 currently, but the new proposal cuts that to just $100.
Class Council candidates can also spend $250 on their campaign materials under the current JEC charter, but the new bill would limit spending to just $50.