SA Senate overhauls student election process

Media Credit: Donna Armstrong | Hatchet Photographer

Sens. Finley Wetmore, SEAS-U, and Jan Yonan, CCAS-U, presented a 40-page bill Monday overhauling the way SA, Program Board and Class Council elections are run.

The Student Association Senate Monday nearly unanimously approved a series of reforms to the way that student body elections will be conducted beginning next academic year.

After a nearly three-hour debate about a 40-page reform bill, the senate approved an overhaul of the Joint Elections Committee – the body that runs elections for the SA, Program Board and Class Council.

The bill replaces the five-member JEC with a seven-member Joint Elections Commission, whose leader will be elected by the student body during annual elections instead of being appointed by the SA, Program Board or Class Council.

The bill changes how election violation complaints are handled, requiring that public complaint documents secure the confidentiality of those involved. The changes also mandate that the JEC refer certain complaints – like those that involve breaking local and federal laws or the code of conduct – to “the appropriate judicial authority.”

The reform bill was enacted in reaction to the stalking and harassment scandal that rattled the election process last spring.

The bill also eliminates the current winner-takes-all voting system, allowing voters to order their preferred candidates instead of only picking one. The SA previously proposed the system as a referendum during the 2011 elections, and it was approved by the student body with 61 percent of the vote but never enacted.

SA President Peak Sen Chua signed the bill immediately following the meeting.

Sen. Jan Yonan, CCAS-U, and one of the sponsors of the bill, said he was “overall incredibly pleased” that the senate passed the reforms. Yonan chaired the committee that produced the bill, hosted town halls and conducted a review of the JEC’s bylaws ahead of the proposal.

“I certainly look forward to working with the JEC to make sure all of these are enacted properly, as well as working with any senators that wish to see future changes in the elections,” Yonan said in an interview following the vote.

During debate about the legislation, the senate largely disputed a section of the bill mandating that Class Council and Program Board also approve any amendments made to the JEC charter in the future, instead of just the SA Senate.

Sen. Brady Forrest, G-at-Large, said that provision would be unconstitutional because it would grant Class Council and Program Board the ability to usurp amendments proposed by the SA Senate to the SA’s own governing documents, since the JEC charter is written in a section of the SA bylaws.

“We can’t enact change, we can’t do what we what, we can’t control our own bylaws because we need the approval of two other organizations,” Forrest said during discussion about the bill.

Following two failed amendments to add language to the bill giving the senate sole power to amend the charter, the senate intially failed to approve the bill as it stood by two votes. The bill needed a two-thirds majority, or 24 votes, for passage but only 22 senators supported the legislation.

The bill was then amended to include a section granting the senate the power to overrule any Program Board or Class Council objections to amendments if three-fourths of the senate agrees. Upon second vote, the bill was passed by a vote of 30 to zero, with one abstention. At least two senators promised to propose amendments to the charter at the senate’s next full body meeting in January.

Sarah Roach contributed reporting.

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