SA Senate switches to ranked-choice election ballots, lowers candidate signature requirements

Media Credit: File Photo by Grace Hromin | Photographer

Kyle Piekarski, the chairman of the Joint Elections Commission, discussed proposed updated to the Student Association's elections process.

The Student Association Senate unanimously voted to change multiple SA election processes to create easier and more accessible avenues for students to run for and vote on senate positions.

The 2019 Election Reform Act amends a section of SA bylaws to lower the number of petition signatures undergraduates need to run for senate positions, revise the Joint Elections Commission member-selection process and officially switch election voting to an electronic, ranked-choice ballot. SA President SJ Matthews, who sponsored the bill, said she worked with JEC Chairman Kyle Piekarski on the bill to increase accessibility for any student who wants to run for a seat.

“We do believe that we’ve managed to alleviate some of the roadblocks that can deter people from running, namely the signature threshold,” she said.

Undergraduate-at-Large candidates will only need to collect 150 signatures from their constituency, half of the previous 300-signature minimum, to run for the seat, according to the bill.

Undergraduates running for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the Elliott School of International Affairs senate seats now only need 100 and 75 signatures, respectively, compared to the 200 and 150 signatures required in years past. Undergraduates running for a School of Business senate seat will only need 50 signatures instead of 100, the bill states.

Piekarski, the JEC chairman who endorsed the bill, said JEC and SA leaders decided to maintain the 500 signatures required for presidential and executive vice presidential candidates. Piekarski said the steep signature threshold demands presidential and EVP candidates to manage a team of people when acquiring signatures, which exhibits the strong leadership skills candidates need to hold the top-level SA positions.

“When we’re setting requirements to run, the goal of the candidate for president and executive vice president should be that they should have to demonstrate, in my mind at least, some ability to work as a team, some ability to function with other people and to try and get a high amount of support,” he said.

The senate previously confirmed the graduate student and undergraduate the SA president appointed to the JEC, and Program Board and Class Council executive boards could confirm two general body members to the commission, according to the legislation.

The amended bill requires the SA president to instead appoint three graduate students and three undergraduates, both of whom a two-thirds senate majority have to confirm.

Piekarski said neither Program Board nor the Class Council’s executive boards have selected potential JEC members in at least the current and last year’s election.

Students will now electronically cast votes using a ranked-choice ballot, according to the legislation. The senate announced plans in November 2017 to switch elections to ranked-choice voting, but SA leaders said in March the JEC did not have the proper technology to implement the new voting system before spring elections.

Officials announced in May that all student organizations would be required to use Engage – an online management system – this fall, a move that enabled groups to use ranked-choice voting and election forums.

“The Center for Student Engagement is of the opinion that it can be done,” Piekarski said. “They’re pretty much done testing their way through it, but as a technical note, we’re in that transition and we’re going to try and ease it a bit and make things more accessible.”

SA Executive Vice President Amy Martin announced at the meeting that the senate’s decision to censure SA Sen. Jake Corsi, CCAS-G, last week for creating or propagating a hostile environment is void, because too few senators approved the censure charge.

She said 22 senate members voted in favor of the charge, but SA governing documents state that 24 affirmative votes are needed to censure a senator. Martin added that she recognizes that the 22 senators who voted in favor of the charge “view the environment of this body as hostile.”

“That is over half of our senate not feeling like this is a positive or productive environment for them, and I do not take that lightly,” Martin said.

Senators approved a bill stating that a “definitive” list of censure charges must be generated during future decisions to initiate censure proceedings, and the SA must hold a censure vote within 30 calendar days of initiating censure proceedings.

The senate passed a bill creating a committee that will propose edits to the SA’s constitution, like changing the text’s language to be gender inclusive, which the committee will present to the senate this academic year. Senators also approved six students to the JEC and allocated $29,000 to the Black Student Union for the organization’s Black Heritage Month Celebration in February.

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