Differing views about the current at-large senator election process were discussed at the Missouri Students Association committee meetings Tuesday night.
Currently, a full Senate can hold 70 senators, with one spot reserved for the senate speaker, according to paragraph five, section two of the MSA Constitution and section 2.40 of the MSA bylaws. Students elect 50 senators by their academic college in the fall. If those seats are not filled, 10 senators can be elected through the at-large process. During the at-large process, sitting senators fill these 10 spots, along with 20 others specifically set aside for at-large seats.
Senate Clerk Matt Kalish proposed legislation that would allow students to vote for at-large senators in the fall and spring. This would have required a referendum with three-fifths of voting students’ approval.
If a large number of seats were vacated during the semester, the senate speaker could call a special senate election at various times, according to Kalish’s legislation.
Kalish’s legislation failed in committee meetings.
Operations Committee Chairman Ben Bolin brainstormed other possibilities during committee meetings. Currently, he is proposing creating an application review committee, in which senators would approve applications before the applicants presented themselves at full Senate.
Bolin said he would also like to update the application, make applicants’ presentations to full Senate more formal and create an orientation meeting for new senators.
Bolin’s plans are still being adapted as he gets more senators’ feedback.
Both Kalish and Bolin’s proposed changes focus on two separate issues, Legislative Coordinator Ben Levin said. The first question, which Kalish’s legislation addresses, is whether Senate should be choosing people with internal elections. The second is if there should be reforms to the internal elections process.
Kalish said Bolin’s proposed changes were dodging the point.
“(Those changes) may make it less clubby and stuff, but it doesn’t go to the root of the point: Are the senators accountable to the students or the (senators)?” Kalish said.
Senators disputed Kalish’s legislation at committee meetings.
Senator Devin Kelsey said it would be difficult to get students to care about the senator elections.
“Students don’t pay attention enough to one election, but (this is) asking students to pay attention to more elections,” Kelsey said.
Other senators felt they did a good job of selecting the at-large senators.
“For students who really want to be in MSA, we fight for them,” Senator Ana Whitaker said at the Student Affairs Committee meeting. “I think as senators we do a good job of deciphering if people are doing it for the right reasons.”
Levin said there was no proof that senators elected through the at-large process are less accountable to the students than those elected by students of an academic college.
“What I’m interested in is you talk about representation and how this body is not representing students,” Levin said to Kalish. “It’s an accusatory statement, but it’s not necessarily inaccurate. You’re right that elections need to be reformed somehow.”
Levin said he thought the biggest issue with the elections process was the endorsement period between when the applicants’ presentations and when Senate votes.
“By the time that we vote, we haven’t seen the (applicants) for 15 or 20 minutes,” Levin said. “… They should leave and we should just vote as soon as possible. The endorsement thing is a popularity contest. The fact that this guy knows two people, this guy knows five people, has no bearing on how effective a senator you will be.”