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Some Senate seats remain in flux after SGA election cycle ends

By Nadia Langley

The Student Government Association (SGA) election results for the 2020-2021 school year were released this past Saturday, naming Lana Katai ’21 as president, Amelia Zoernig ’21 as vice president for student affairs (VPSA) and Fernando Rodriguez ’22 as vice president for academic affairs (VPAA). In each dorm cluster, two or three senators were elected.

Several aspects of the election, however, were left up in the air after voting had concluded. Rodriguez was not only made VPAA-elect, but was also elected as an incumbent senator for the Loosehead cluster in the spring 2020 semester, a result that is unusual but not prohibited by SGA policy.

Two Senate seats were listed as contested, in the LaKeRoJe and Clangrala clusters. One seat, representing off-campus housing, was left vacant.

Rodriguez said in an interview with The S&B that he had just resigned as senator, deciding it was best to focus his energy toward his position as VPAA-elect. Rodriguez’s Senate seat will be filled by Aditya Nair ’23, the candidate with the next most votes.

Rodriguez highlighted his excitement regarding his opportunity to represent student interests in Academic Affairs, saying, “I wasn’t really happy with the institutional policies that limit the work that students can academically pursue. … My interests really do lie in academics and just making it more accessible.” Rodriguez believes his past work in the Senate has prepared him for the executive position. “I got a good sense of what is needed to be done,” he said.

The S&B reached out to Destiny Magnett ’22, the chair of the SGA election board, to learn more about the contested and vacant Senate seats.

The two clusters with contested seats had write-in candidates who received the same number of votes, Magnett explained. Per the SGA constitution, the protocol for a situation like this is to reach out to these candidates and ask if they would like to be part of a runoff election.

If more than one of these candidates is invested in holding the seat, a runoff election would be held within the relevant cluster, with only the contested seat’s candidates listed on the ballot.

In LaKeRoJe, the runoff election will be between Bailey Vandekamp ’22 and Luz Alfaro ’22. In Clangrala, the runoff election will be between Aarzoo Bhimani ’21 and Kaia Clarke ’21. The elections for both clusters are open until 5 p.m. on Friday, February 14.

The vacant Senate seat listed on the ballot is for the off-campus college-owned (OCCO) housing cluster. No candidates ran for this seat, and there were no write-ins.

Since the elections board will be unable to hold a runoff election with zero candidates, Magnett said that SGA’s policy will allow the current executives to appoint a senator to fill that seat. The only requirements for the appointed candidate will be that they have completed at least one semester at Grinnell College (required for all Senate positions) and that they live in college-owned off-campus housing.

“It’s up to the executives how they want to go about that appointment, if they want to seek recommendations or look within a list [of students] they know, or have some sort of application process,” Magnett added. As of yet, a senator has not been appointed.

Several changes were made this election season, including holding the election in February to provide more time to train the executives-elect and provide sufficient time to make and approve cabinet appointments, including all-campus events chair, diversity and outreach coordinator and tech advisor.

This year’s election ballot also included both the executive and senatorial candidates in hopes of drawing more vote turnout, as students have historically tended to turn out for the executive elections more than they would for the Senate.

Voter turnout dropped from last spring, when at least 950 votes were cast, to this most recent election, when only an estimated 700 votes were cast.

Asked what she attributed the low student involvement to, Magnett said that student interest in SGA is falling, but members of SGA are “talking about potentially finding new ways to restructure the Senate to generate more interest from the student body.”

Magnett encouraged students to get involved with SGA, either through the committee, which is open to the public, or by voting in the runoff elections, which will occur before Sunday, Feb. 16, if they live in Clangrala or LaKeRoJe. Looking towards the future, Rodriguez shared his hope for more student engagement with SGA.

He said, “I hope people start seeing the change that can happen through SGA, because we do have a lot of power … and I hope restructuring the policies we have in place now will evoke more interest in being a part of [SGA].”

An SGA reform committee meets every Friday at 4 p.m. in the SGA offices.

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