Student association votes to overhaul current JEC

The student association has voted to reform the Joint Elections Committee, which struggled with student election scandals last year.

The bill, SB-F17–05: Elections Reform Act of 2017, sponsored by CCAS Senator Jan Yonan and SEAS Senator Finley Wetmore, was produced by the Joint Elections Committee Charter Reform Committee, which the SA formed in September of this semester.

The sponsors finished their presentation and questioning period at 9:51 p.m., opening the floor for discussion. Until 10:44 p.m., the senate debated an amendment proposed by Sen. Brady Forrest. His amendment said that the SA’s charter for the JEC would take supremacy over any conflicting charters or constitutions by other JEC-affiliated organizations, such as Program Board or Class Council.

The amendment failed, falling two votes short of the two-thirds requirement. The reform measure was brought to a vote and failed, but after a recess, a different amendment, which said that any amendment to the JEC that Program Board or Class Council rejects can be override by a 3/4 vote of the senate, was proposed and passed. After, the overall act passed with a vote of 30–0–1 at 11:48 p.m.

During public comment before the measure was introduced, three members of the current JEC spoke in support of the measure. It has a few major changes:

  1. A new name. The measure changes the name to the Joint Elections Commission.

  2. More members. The commission will be made up of seven students instead of five. The SA president will nominate one graduate and one undergraduate to be confirmed by the senate, the Program Board Chair will nominate one graduate and one undergraduate to be confirmed by the Executive Program Board, and the Class Council President will nominate two students to be confirmed by the Class Council Executive Board. The commissioner will be nominated by the study body at large during spring elections.

  3. Confidentiality. Any published complaints will redact names, except for that of the complainant and the relevant candidate.

  4. Jurisdiction. The JEC will be required to refer complaints regarding violations not maintained by the commission to the appropriate authority. This includes violations of the Code of Conduct or any legal violations.

  5. Voting. Instead of direct voting, students will now rank candidates (if there are multiple candidates for a position). If no candidate is ranked first at the necessary threshold (required percentage varies by position), the candidate with the lowest “first” ranks is disqualified, and the second-ranked candidate on the ballots voting for the disqualified candidate are counted as first-choice ranks for the remaining candidates. Write-in candidates may be ranked as well. This will not go into effect until the 2019 elections.

  6. Spending limits. The spending limits for campaigns have been reduced, and the SA will provide free poster printing to candidates (number of posters depends on position running for).

The SA actually passed a referendum allowing rank-choice voting in 2011, but chose not to use that system the following years.

Last year, the Student Association elections were rocked by a series of allegations filed against candidates, resulting in an 11-hour hearing held by the JEC, which voted to disqualify candidate Lande Watson. While her team appealed to the university, which did not rule them as violating university policy, the school did choose to postpone the presidential election. Ultimately, no election occurred, and Vice President-elect Peak Sen Chua assumed the presidency.

The Rival GW covered the JEC’s hearing last semester, noting some serious problems with their handling of the process. Initially, they published all complaints online, without redacting any names listing in allegations with potentially legal consequences. Some witnesses remained in the room during other witnesses’ testimony, risking changed answers. Despite being public, the JEC did not publish information about the meeting and members of the student body were told police would be called if they were found to be recording audio or video.

Student concern over the JEC’s handling of the election complaints led to the creation of the reform committee. The committee held three open hearings and sent out surveys to people who were involved in the 2017 elections, including former candidates, their campaign teams, administrators from the Center for Student Engagement, former JEC members, and the highest-ranking officials in student organizations that endorsed a candidate.

Originally published at gw.therival.news by Emily Milakovic on 12.5.17.
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CampusEmily Milakovic