SA considers electoral reforms, discusses revisions to attendance policy

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EMMA FORD, KIM LORES AND LULU DAWES / THE FLAT HAT

Nov. 5, senators in the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly convened in Blow Hall 331 and approved three bills, heard a presentation about policy changes regarding senator attendance and debated possible reforms to SA’s election processes.

Sen. Henry Philpott ’22 and Elections Commission Chair Hank Hermans ’22 delivered a presentation on possible reforms to SA’s elections. Philpott and Hermens mentioned that since freshman elections take place relatively early in the fall semester, many first year students fill out their ballots without knowing much about the candidates or their platforms.

“At least within my freshman hall, and other people I have been talking to, there was a desire from some people, but they just did not know any of the candidates and they just voted randomly,” Philpott said. “They were like, ‘oh, this name sounds cool,’ and clicked on it, rather than having any information whatsoever about who they were voting for.”

Philpott and Hermans suggested emulating election processes held at other schools, such as the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California. At these universities, ballots feature candidates’ photographs and campaign platforms.

Some members of SA expressed concerns with these proposals, saying that they could unfairly benefit candidates who can afford better headshots or who come across better in written statements.

“I am pretty against including photos and bios on the ballot, and I have two main points for that,” SA President Kelsey Vita ’20 said. “One, I think if you don’t have the time to campaign, then you don’t have the time to be in SA. And then two, I think regardless of the quality of the photo, I do think people can and will judge based on physical appearances. I think that’s just a human thing, and I don’t want that to be a part of our election process.”

Senate Chair Anthony Joseph ’21 concurred with Vita, and said that the Elections Commission is not responsible for helping candidates with campaigning by including platforms on the ballot.

After reexamining SA’s policy on attendance during the Policy Committee Sunday Nov. 3, Chair of the Policy Committee Sen. Jahnavi Prabhala ’22, as well as her fellow representatives Class of 2020 President Cody Mills ’20, Class of 2021 President Aria Austin ’21 and Sens. Will Wasson J.D. ’21, Meghana Poojala ’22, Angela Tiangco ’20, Patrick Salsburg ’21, Eugene Lee ’23 and Abby Varricchio ’23, sponsored the Code Attendance Policy Amendment of 2019. The amendment seeks to fix SA Code §2.1-2.2 by outlining when absences from Senate meetings, committees and other SA required events are excused.

“Excused absences shall include: time away caused by a student’s serious illness (medical or mental health), hospitalization, or death or serious illness of a close family member; emergency academic obligations; and important religious or cultural obligations,” the amendment says. “Graduate Senators shall also be excused for non-emergency academic obligations. Unexcused absences shall include: other student organization events; minor academic events that could have been avoided; and social visits.”

This policy change was instigated by former Sen. Liam Watson ’20’s attendance review that was incurred following excessive committee absences. Watson filed a request for the SA Review Board to look over the constitutionality of his attendance review. The board declared that SA code did not provide an outline for excused and unexcused absences, and therefore, all absences missed by senators qualify for an attendance review.

Shifting gears, despite some unanswered questions about the bill’s specifics, the senators passed the Fourth Annual Transgender Awareness Week Act, which was sponsored by Salsburg and Sen. Kyle Vasquez ’21. The act provides $3,601 to advertise the week’s events, as well as to pay speaker AC Dumlao and purchase the film screening rights to show “Boy Meets Girl.”

Joseph suggested to his fellow senators that SA should table bills with ambiguities when they reach committees moving forward.

“I think for our practices in the future, I think we should look to considering tabling something like this in the future because there was a lot of information we didn’t have in committees,” Joseph said.  “… That’s a reason to table.”

Also at this week’s meeting:

  • The Senate passed the Adieu to the Flu Act, which provides $45 for the printing of flyers advertising the free flu shots offered by the Student Health Center.
  • Senators also passed the Free STI Testing Bill, which allocates $10,007 to fund free STI testing for all students, with a cap of two tests per student per semester, at the Student Health Center.
  • Joseph also called to Senate’s attention the Washington Nationals garb donned by Philpott, as the two senators made a bet last week that the loser would have to wear the jersey of the winning team at the Senate’s weekly meeting.