SGA Discusses Elections Reform Proposal

The 52nd legislature of the Student Government Association (SGA) unanimously confirmed a new Constitutional Council chief justice and three associate justices on Monday night. SGA also discussed a bill to establish an Elections Reform Commission, which was in first readings.

Owen Mattocks (20C) was confirmed as chief justice of the Constitutional Council, the highest judicial body in student government. Mattocks served as an associate justice during the 2017-2018 school year. The chief justice serves a one-year, nonrenewable term, according to SGA’s website.

Jane Wang (22C), Sam Branson (20C) and Matthew Ribel (19C) were confirmed as associate justices of the Constitutional Council. Associate justices serve for enrollment-long periods, SGA’s website said.

SGA President Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C) and legislators did not discuss why they selected and approved the candidates.

SGA Chief of Staff Ben Palmer (18Ox, 20C) and College Council (CC) Chief of Staff Jacob Hicks (18Ox, 20C) introduced Bill 52sl27, which establishes an Emory Elections Reform Commission.

According to the bill, which is scheduled for a vote next week, the commission would be created in response to alleged procedural problems with the Spring 2018 student government elections. The committee’s main function would be to review the Elections Code and recommend changes to the SGA legislature by the end of the semester.

The committee would be composed of at least one SGA legislator and one student from each divisional council. Divisional council members would be selected by their respective president, and students could apply via an application.

Hicks said it was not “entirely fair” to blame the problems from the 2018 SGA elections on the Elections Board.

“There are a lot of issues with the Code itself,” Hicks said. “It’s really long. It’s really convoluted, and I think it’s fair to say that most candidates don’t fully understand all the procedures in it, and it’s not necessarily fair to ask them to.”

Hicks added that the Code has some “out-of-date things” and “a number of amendments made to the document that to my understanding never actually [have] been incorporated.”

When VP of Diversity and Equity Maya Foster (17Ox, 19C) asked the bill authors if they had any ideas of who specifically should be on the committee, Palmer said that he expected Hicks and himself to become the committee chairs.

“We would just be organizing and facilitating the conversation,” Palmer said. “We don’t have any authority.”

Speaker of the Legislature and Sophomore Representative Lori Steffel (21C) told the bill authors that, constitutionally, all ad-hoc legislative committees must include two SGA legislators on the committee, whereas the bill states there must be “at least one.”

Steffel said she did not foresee any problems with the bill authors including another SGA legislator to the committee. No amendment was made to the bill in order to change the language.

Steffel added that details in the Elections Code did not specify procedures for all undergraduate-wide elections.

“When it talks about how to win an election, it makes references to representatives-at-large and University senators … it doesn’t even include specific terminology about what you do with SGA legislators or College Council legislators or Residence Hall Association,” Steffel said. “It’s majorly open to interpretation.”

When Senior Representative Owen Lynch (17Ox, 19C) asked about the type of relationship the commission expects with the Elections Board, Hicks said he would want the Elections Board to be present during all the commission’s meetings.

“It’s not really fair to ask the Elections Board to also run an election, handle any appeals and rewrite the Elections Code at the same time,” Hicks said.

Palmer said the Elections Board was aware that this bill was being presented.

Sophomore Representative Zion Kidd (21C) questioned the purpose of the commission, as they have no real power to change the Elections Code.

Palmer said the commission would help the Elections Board understand the Code and give them time to “acclimate” into their new roles.

“[It also helps to] be more inclusive and create the space to actually have a conversation to start working on it … the Elections Board themselves might not have as much inclusive understanding as to what went wrong and what goes on in elections,” Palmer said.

Kidd said he felt that the commission would be “undermining” SGA’s process of selecting officials for the Elections Board.

“We went through this whole process to develop an Elections Board that we feel can handle it, to then basically be like ‘here’s training wheels you didn’t ask for,’ ” Kidd said.

Hicks said he does not intend for the commission to take any power from the Elections Board but added that the Elections Board does not have representation from every divisional council.

“There were a lot of student body members who felt they weren’t having their voices or their votes heard … to my reading of the Elections Code, every single divisional council is supposed to have a representative on the Elections Board, and to my understanding it’s been a long time since that has been fulfilled,” Hicks said.

SGA Executive Vice President John Priddy (19C) said he felt the committee could be useful, especially given the contentious Spring 2018 elections. Justin Cohen (20C) was confirmed as SGA Elections Board Chair last week. His new role follows a chaotic Spring 2018 election season that saw Former Elections Board Chair Betty Zhang (20C) and Former Elections Board Vice Chair Andy Xu (20C) resign immediately after the elections completed. The Constitutional Council recommended that Zhang resign or be impeached after multiple students brought a complaint against her.

“I don’t see harm in having a second check [especially considering] the elections we saw in April,” Priddy said. “There was a lot of confusion.”

Attorney General Kaia Ordal (17Ox, 19C) agreed with Priddy, saying additional checks could benefit elections.

“Given the gravity of the situation from last year a commission would be a terrific idea,” Ordal said. “Just having a second set of eyes on the situation [is beneficial]. It would be better to be more safe than sorry.”

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