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UA Senate To Vote On Changes To Election Rules

By Waseem S. Daher

Discussion at Monday’s meeting of the Undergraduate Association Senate was centered on two topics: a plan for counting dormitory residents who are also affiliated with fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, and restructuring of the UA.

The election code changes, perhaps the most controversial of those proposed Monday, are designed to balance the Senate’s desire for elections early in the year with the fact that freshmen do not know their affiliation until the conclusion of Rush.

The proposed restructuring, on the other hand, is an attempt to reduce inefficiency in the UA by removing the UA Coordinating Committee. The committee was designed to act as an intermediary between the Senate and the executive branch of the UA, but has largely been unused, said Andrew T. Lukmann ’07, the outgoing Senate speaker, UA president-elect and author of the legislation.

In its stead, the UA president’s cabinet would be supplemented with a few members from the Senate to create the “Executive Committee.”

In addition, the changes include requiring student members of MIT committees to report to the Senate periodically, in the hopes of improving Senate awareness of the activities of these committees.

Constitutional amendments are required to implement some of these proposals. UA rules stipulate that any amendment must be presented one meeting before it can be approved, so nothing has been voted on yet. The Senate will meet again on Monday, May 1, to take action on the legislation.

Election code controversy

The MIT rule prohibiting freshmen from living in fraternities, sororities, or independent living groups (a decision known colloquially as the “freshmen on campus” decision) has posed a few problems for the UA voting system.

For example, a freshman who joins a fraternity but lives in a dormitory may choose to classify himself as a dormitory resident or as a fraternity member. This choice, in turn, affects the number of senator positions given to each dormitory, and to FSILGs.

This year, the elections process was postponed until the completion of Rush, so that the number of Senate seats available to each constituency could be calculated.

The problem with this arrangement, however, is the time frame: after Rush, some time has to be given for freshmen to decide which constituency they would like to vote for. Then, time has to be given for people to declare their intentions to run, followed by time for campaigning. Finally, elections (also a week-long affair) can be held.

If the election process is not begun before the end of Rush, the Senate cannot meet before early October. This delay proved problematic last fall because a number of student groups required Senate action before they could receive funding.

Lukmann’s proposed solution is to cut out the delay between the end of Rush and elections by beginning campaigns before Rush finishes, and holding an election shortly after it ends, when freshmen know their affiliations. During voting, upperclassmen FSILG-affiliated members living in dormitories would be asked which constituency they would like to vote for, as before, but under this system, the numbers would factor into seat assignment for the following year. That is to say, the number of Senate seats allocated to Baker House, for example, would be computed based on its voting population in the previous year, cutting out time spent on designating, counting, and determining number of seats.

Under the scheme as initially proposed Monday, all freshmen “shall be automatically registered to vote for the dormitory constituency in which they reside,” according to the bill discussed at the meeting.

Some senators were less than thrilled with this proposal. Among others, Dwight M. Chambers ’07, Joy M. Dunn ’08, and Alexander J. Werbos ’07, senators representing fraternities, sororities, and Senior House, respectively, expressed reservations.

It’s just “not a very accurate representation,” Dunn later said. Werbos concurred, citing concern about the fact that freshmen would no longer be allowed to designate their votes towards an FSILG.

Given that the system currently in place is the product of lengthy debate and discussion by the Ad Hoc Committee on Elections, a committee on which he sat last year, Werbos said he is also reluctant to modify the status quo substantially, especially without further discussion.

In light of these criticisms, two modifications are under consideration, both of which are schemes in which every FSILG-affiliated dormitory resident, including freshmen, designates his or her constituency at election time, on the ballot.

First, voters would be asked which constituency they would like to vote for, and then for whom they wanted to vote, all in one ballot, Lukmann said.

In the first proposal, the sizes of the constituency affect the number of Senate seats the following year, while in the second, the number of seats for the current year is modified.

The year-long delay is a disadvantage of the first plan, though Lukmann believes a “steady state” would be reached. The downside to the second plan, however, is that the exact number of Senate seats per group would not be known until after the elections, complicating the situation for potential candidates.

“Both plans seem reasonable,” Lukmann said, and both would allow the UA Senate to have its first meeting before the end of September.

UA restructuring

As it stands now, the UA is composed of three units: the Senate, the executive branch, and a third body designed to act as a go-between — the UA Coordinating Committee, known affectionately as CoComm. In practice, however, CoComm has been largely ineffectual, and has not even met in quite some time.

Lukmann’s proposal is to cut out CoComm and replace it with an Executive Committee, comprising the current cabinet, some members from the Senate, and the chairpersons of any UA standing committees.

The constitutional reforms are not strictly limited to structure, though. Another important change is the introduction of accountability of student representatives to the UA Senate.

When an MIT committee is created and wants a student member, he/she is selected by the UA Nominations Committee, which reports to the UA president. Under this new proposal, student members of committees would report to the Senate on a regular basis.

The UA can essentially do only four things: change itself, fund proposals, pass resolutions, and appoint students to committees. Student presence on Institute committees is one of the biggest ways in which the UA can influence MIT policy, so it is important to ensure that the students are being effective.

This new change would hold them accountable to the policy makers and elected officials, said Hans E. Anderson ’08, a senator from Next House.