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SGA election commissioner, president clash over proposed changes to voting system

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Prominent members of SGA are debating alterations to the election code, with heavy disagreements on which system to use during the elections.

Some of the more significant changes to the election code, drafted by recently-appointed Election Commissioner Cessabella Astraquillo, include alterations to the voting system. Astraquillo is a proponent of the first-past-the-post voting system, adjusting term limits and enforcing tighter limits on campaign spending. 

“Last year’s election was a bit of a mess. That is mostly due to the fact that our election code is very convoluted, messy, targeted and biased,” Astraquillo said. “The election commission is trying to unify the document so that we don’t have to be changing it year over year.”

The most contentious change for SGA president Benjamin Rizk is the voting system. For Rizk, using a first-past-the-post system increases the possibility of a runoff election, while ranked-choice voting prevents it. 

In a first-past-the-post system, voters cast one ballot for a single candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins. In a ranked-choice system, voters rank each candidate from first to last and if a candidate receives more than half of the first choice, they will win. If not, the candidate with the lowest amount of votes will be eliminated, and the votes will be redistributed until a candidate reaches the majority. 

Astraquillo claims that using a ranked-choice voting system is complicated for students and implementing one will create unnecessary work for the election commission.

“If you were to ask an average student ‘how do you vote for a ranked-choice voting system,’ they’re not going to know how to answer,” Astraquillo said. “It’s confusing for everyone involved.”

What’s more, some claim the implementation of a first-past-the-post system  would be unconstitutional.  In 2020, a constitutional amendment was voted on and passed by the student body that mandated ranked-choice as SGA’s voting system. A clerical error within the justice department resulted in the constitution remaining unchanged. 

“I don’t care what she thinks,” Rizk said about her proposed changes. “The election is going to be ranked-choice whether she likes it or not.”

However, for Astraquillo, using a first-past-the-post system is worth the risk of a runoff — something that Rizk wishes to avoid in future elections.

“I think runoff elections are pretty stupid frankly, and ranked choice voting would prevent this,” Rizk said. “Using a ranked choice system allows for more proportionality for student votes.” 

The proposed revisions to the election code was also contentious among SGA senators.

“A first-past-the-post voting system cannot properly address the needs of the students consistently,” said Sen. Cody Szell. “Our administration may be the product of a first-past-the-post system, but we are actively working to make sure a situation like this never happens again.”

 Rizk also introduced a bill he drafted that would remove all provisions for a recall election in the SGA constitution.

Other adjustments to the election code include decreasing the limit to campaign spending and adjusting term limits to allow for presidents to run for more than one term. Limiting presidents and vice presidents to a single term was a major priority for Rizk in the lead up to his election. 

“I feel that if a president wants to serve two terms, let them. I think having a president serve only one term is bad for continuity, and you can’t have continuity if you have term limits,” Astraquillo said.

The alterations to the election code will be voted on in January when the senators reconvene for the spring semester.

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