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Friday, November 16, 2018

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SGA to vote on major election code changes


Senators will vote on major election code reform Wednesday.

Senators at an April Senate meeting voting. They will vote on election code reforms Wednesday that would drastically shakeup how elections are run. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

The Student Government Association Senate is set to vote Wednesday on major election code reforms that would change how students vote and limit the terms of certain positions in the executive branch.

The bill, written by president Cameron Barrett with the help of former chief elections commissioner and current Chief of Staff Kendrick Alridge, would introduce ranked voting for Senate and presidential elections. There would no longer be extended voting periods for runoffs. The bill currently has 25 senators signed as sponsors.

“This election code reform will be the biggest one we’ve had in probably 10 to 15 years, I suppose,” Alridge said. “Cameron and I, (after) he won the runoff, revamped the whole thing.”

Limiting incumbency advantage

One major reform would disallow a president or vice president who serves more than half of their term to run for office again. This would limits the possibility of two-term presidents. Finance and accounting junior and former senator Valentin Perez said two-term presidents have been rare in the history of the Student Government Association.

“Let’s say you (Barrett) do an amazing job,” College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Senator Diego Garcia said at the last Senate meeting. “Why stop yourself from running again to do more things?”

Barrett conceded that you could miss out on a good two-term president, but those were already rare. He said sitting presidents should not be able to argue to vote for them again by allowing them to finish their initiatives. They will only get one term to get initiatives done for students, he said.

Former SGA president Winni Zhang, Barrett’s opponent in the March run-off election for president, hoped to serve two terms in the role.

Another issue Barrett feels would be solved is limiting the campaign advantage for an incumbent president running again. He said the president can read all the applications for Senate seats to find people to fill their party.

The attorney general would no longer be an appointed position by the Senate. Rather than being elected to a two-year term, they can only serve once. Currently, the president chooses the attorney general, who is confirmed by the Senate and goes on to choose the election commissioner, giving the president a possible advantage if they decide to run again.

“(The president) isn’t supposed to appoint the election commissioner, but that’s what happened last time around,” Barrett said. “There’s a lot of problems with bias. There were problems in the last election that were upsetting to me.”

Senate voting changes

For Senate elections with a single seat available, students would rank the candidates from most preferred to least in descending order equal to the number of candidates running for a seat, according to the draft of the bill to be voted on Wednesday.

Students’ highest ranked choice, or first choice votes, are first tallied. If a candidate wins more than half of all first-ranked choices, they win the seat. If no candidate receives more than half of first-ranked choices, the candidate with the lowest number of first-ranked votes is eliminated, and all students’ second-choice vote is added to candidate vote totals.

The process is repeated until a candidate receives 50 percent plus one of the total vote.

“One of the big arguments is (ranked voting) is so darn confusing,” Barrett said. “It’s really not.” The election commission will have an extra $1,000 budgeted to advertise the election, Barrett said.

For Senate races with multiple seats, the process changes. Candidates would need to pass a “percentage threshold” to win a seat. The percentage threshold is determined by dividing 100 percent by the number of candidates.

Students’ highest ranked choices would be tallied first, and any candidate who passes the percentage threshold with enough first-choice votes would win. Any remaining seats are determined by second-choice and so on votes by students added to candidates’ total to fill seats.

 

Students Unite won 25 of 37 Senate seats last election. Barrett said his party winning so many seats while only receiving one-third of the vote would no longer occur under the new system.

“If students want 100 percent of the Senate to be one party, they should get that,” Barrett said. “The Senate is going to be a lot more proportional with the new voting system.”

Presidential voting changes

The system is similar for the presidential election. Students would rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives the majority of students’ top pick for president, the candidate with the least number of votes will be eliminated, and students’ second picks will be added to candidate vote totals.

These automatic runoffs occur until a candidate receives the majority of Senate seats. Students can rank as few candidates as they please.

“The runoff system is terrible. I hate the runoff system,” Barrett said, who won the presidency in a runoff. “It’s an extra two days of your life you’re never getting back.”

Elections are also given a set time to occur. Usually, they occur for three days in February or March before Spring Break. If passed, the election code reform will require voting to be six days and held on specific dates.

“General Election’s voting will be held during the second Monday and Tuesday of February, the third Tuesday and Wednesday of February, and the fourth Wednesday and Thursday of February,” the bill reads.

Voting would begin at midnight each set of days and end 48 hours after.

 

Helping newcomers

Alridge, who served as chief elections commissioner for the 2013-2014 school year, said the elections code reform would allow newcomers to have a chance to win elections. Historically, he said, a group of people control the Student Government Association and easily win elections running together, giving newcomers a hard time to get involved.

He said the most recent election was not typical, as Barrett’s party consists of mostly of new senators.

“The issue with the elections code, it gives a severe advantage to incumbents,” Alridge said. “It’s hard for newcomers to get involved.”

The new election code would raise the limits independent candidates and parties can spend campaigning. If the bill passes, parties will be able to spend $2,500 campaigning, up from the current ceiling of $1,300.

Independent Senate candidates will be able to spend $800, a $500 raise from the previous limit.

Alridge said he waived the spending total limits when he was elections commissioner and had to resign due to outrage, he said.

“When I was elections commissioner, the total was extremely unfair,” Alridge said. “This code helps a lot of different things.”

More changes coming

In March, Barrett said his administration plans to rewrite the Student Government Association bylaws and constitution and have those changes finalized and approved by summer. After they are approved, his administration will focus on passing bills related to the University, not SGA.

Two proposed bills would aim to limit parking permit price increases to 8 percent per year and request a three-to-five year schedule of planned price increases for permits.

Another bill would require registered student organizations to streamline their GetInvolved pages with meeting times and be removed from GetInvolved if the organization becomes inactive.

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