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The Scarlet & Black

Senator seats prove tough to fill

By Philip Keily
keilyphi@grinnell.edu

The Student Government Association (SGA) held senator elections last week and announced the College’s 18 new senators on Tuesday, Sept. 14. Senators are elected every semester and hold an important position on campus, with duties ranging from budget approval to communication with administration.

However, it can be difficult to get students to run for senator.  Each cluster of residence halls has a certain number of seats that must be filled by student senators, a requirement that is not always easily met.

“Certain districts will be highly competitive, other places will have two applicants for three spots,” said Emmett Sandberg ’18, election board chair.

This discrepancy in competition means that some candidates hold campaigns and don’t win, while others win with only a few votes or get appointed to the position. Although fall semester elections typically see lower turnout than spring semester elections, this year SGA saw increased challenges in getting people to run for senator, in part due to changes to PioneerWeb and its all-campus email function.

“Email really shot us in the foot,” said Michael Owusu ’17, the administrative coordinator for SGA.

SGA previously depended on PioneerWeb’s all campus function to get the word out about senator elections. However, after PioneerWeb became an academics-only website over the summer, this function was removed. Without mass emails, SGA found difficulty informing students about senator elections and thus getting them to run.

ballot-box-graphicSGA instead recruited senators by postering, tabling and knocking on doors.

“People with election board and SGA cabinet … covered the entire campus going door to door, saying first and foremost hey, how’s everyone doing, welcome back to campus … run for senator,” Owusu said.

With these efforts, all 18 seats were filled, albeit sometimes by only a few votes. One new off campus senator, Takshil Sachdev ’19, won his position without even running.

“This semester I decided that I wouldn’t run for senator but a few of my friends, thinking that it would be a funny joke, wrote my name in,” Sachdev said.

A provision in the SGA constitution permitted Sachdev to be elected to the senator position despite not officially running. Several candidates in off campus non-campus-owned houses received more votes, but one of the three off campus seats is required to be filled by a representative of off campus college-owned housing, winning Sachdev his seat.

“I’m glad to have the position now, and I’m going to make the most of it,” Sachdev said.

Although new hurdles arose in the election process this year, Sandberg explained that the low turnout is nothing new.

“First semester elec

tions always have

a lower total,” Sandberg said.

First-year students are not allowed to run during their first semester. Since 25 percent of campus is thereby disqualified from running, both candidate numbers and voter participation are always lower in the fall.

“This year was about average,” Sandberg said.

This year’s election also continued the new voting system. Previously, there were two rounds of voting with a grievance period after each. However, the election board has recently switched to one round of preferential voting.

The new system lets voters rank their favorite candidates. It then collects the results and runs them through a program written by Toby Baratta ’17, the Student Government Association Diversity and Outreach Coordinator. That software is essential to the change because organizations like SGA do not have easy access to preferential voting systems.

Now that the election has finished, Campus Council can start to convene. In Campus Council, senators, SGA cabinet members and the student body meet to discuss issues and pass budgets.

“Campus Council needs to get started as quick as possible,” Owusu said. “The SGA can’t give out money without the campus council and the senate.”

In addition to participating in Campus Council, senators perform a variety of services for students. Owusu and Sandberg both encourage students to reach out to their senators.

“They are resources that can make a big difference if you want to get something done,” Sandberg said.

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