BEC handbook changes to be voted after delays
One change Henderson proposed requires all participants to attend a debriefing event.
Sep. 25, 2015
The Missouri Students Association Board of Election Commissioners Handbook passed through the Operations committee Sept. 21. The handbook is scheduled to be introduced as an act in the Sept. 23 full senate.
BEC Chairwoman Emma Henderson made changes to last year’s BEC Handbook based on conversations with past BEC chairs and two years of campaign experience. She said the changes are meant to help the student body stay informed through the process.
“(Former BEC chair Derek) Chung definitely set a bar, and I hope to see Emma exceed that bar,” Operations committee chairman Dan Paterson said.
The drafting of the handbook did not come without challenges. While last year’s handbook was passed in the spring, several delays prevented that from happening this year, Henderson said.
“Getting it passed in the spring is an ideal situation,” she said. “That was unattainable this year because we had to go through extra rounds of selecting vice chairs. To me, it was more important to make sure that I had the right people working with me to get it done properly than to get it done quickly.”
Operations did not review the changes during the committee meeting.
“She was able to give us all of the changes she wanted to make, but she did not have the actual edited document, in which case if there’s no handbook, there’s nothing we can present and there’s nothing really to pass through operations,” MSA Senate Speaker Kevin Carr said.
The only stipulation in passing the BEC handbook is in Chapter V, section D of MSA’s bylaws, where it states, “The BEC shall present the Presidential handbook to full Senate during the first full Senate meeting of the Fall Semester.”
Henderson was not in attendance at the first full senate meeting on Sept. 9 and Paterson projected the handbook’s cover page to senate for less than a minute.
He later said the presentation met the requirements because he presented the handbook “on behalf” of the BEC, and that the bylaws did not require the presenter to go over the content of the handbook. Carr disagreed.
“We did present it, but by present it, I mean we put the front page on the screen,” Carr said. “We didn’t discuss any of the changes. We didn’t discuss what dates were going to be implemented as per our bylaws, and Dan is not a part of the BEC. We cannot state that the BEC presented the handbook. So, in that case, yes, they broke a bylaw.”
Chief Justice Whitney Barr said that she could not comment on the interpretation of that bylaw because it hadn’t been brought to the student court, but did say that the court was the body with the final authority to settle such disputes.
“The MSA student court has original jurisdiction over any case arising from the MSA Constitution or bylaws,” she wrote in an email. “We can create legally binding decisions about the constitutionality of decisions made by the legislative and executive branches.”
Another problem that arose was the file format of the handbook, she said. The document she had was a PDF file, and she had to actually transcribe the entire handbook before she could edit it. Derek Chung maintained that he gave Emma an editable copy of the handbook in the flash drive he gave her.
Henderson did not submit the final, edited copy of the handbook until 1:04 a.m. the morning of the first full senate. She gave the Operations committee the changes she was going to make the day before full senate, but did not have them made in the handbook.
“We had the changes done beforehand, but the final document wasn’t completely edited yet,” she said. “We gave them the list of the changes, the parts of the handbook where it would apply and an explanation of why we wanted to make those changes, so they got the changes on time.”
One change Henderson proposed requires all participants to attend a debriefing event after the election is over to help the BEC gather information on what went well and what did not during campaigning.
“We wanted to create that precedent and change it so BEC chairs for years to come have a better idea of what kind of changes they need to make,” Henderson said.
The logistics of this new requirement were a point of discussion in the operations meeting. Operations committee members suggested holding the debriefing online to increase participation, but Henderson wanted to have a physical event so she could see the emotional reactions of participants.
Additionally, members of the Operations committee brought up the concern of losing slates having no incentive to participate, as currently there will be no penalty for nonattendance. The specific circumstances of the session are not prescribed in the handbook, however, the responsibility of organizing them will fall on the BEC.
“Asking them to do one more thing, especially if the election didn’t go the way they hoped it would have is hard, but I think in the long run it is really going to be beneficial,” Henderson said.
Another change this year is that candidates can no longer hold polling stations inside buildings. Henderson said she wants to minimize the election’s intrusion upon academic spaces.
“There was a lot of frustration from people who aren’t in campaigns because they felt bombarded,” Henderson said during the Operations meeting. “That’s the home stretch, and people get wired up, and they’re excited. When it’s outside, they have more ways to avoid it.”
The new handbook also contains more specific guidelines on the use of social media such as GroupMe and Facebook. Before, the handbook detailed how slates could contact constituents using email, but did not mention evolving social media platforms.
Because senate did not introduce the handbook as an act on the first full senate and the passage of an act typically requires two full senate meetings, Paterson said that senators will have to suspend the rules of order to pass the act in a single session. Waiting to pass the act until next session would delay the start of the campaign season.
“We have (suspended the rules of order) for legislation in the past that was time-sensitive, so we would not be breaking precedent to do that at this time,” Carr said. “Right now, the BEC handbook is literally the only legislative action we’re considering, so it wouldn’t be disruptive.”
Paterson said that the complications in passing the handbook were “no cause for concern.”
“This should not have any repercussions on any of the candidates,” he said.
While Carr agrees, pointing out that slates still had time to adjust their strategies before the start of campaign season, he said he wanted to see measures taken to ensure communication both during the transition from one BEC chair to the next and between the BEC and senate.
“(The delay in introduction of the handbook) is not going to be detrimental to the process of the election itself,” Carr said. “But we definitely want to make sure that this is all well taken care of in the future, that there’s just no confusion and there isn’t this tension that exists.”
Henderson said she planned to make certain that the next BEC chair did not have the same struggle in transition that she did.
“That editable document will be the first thing I give them,” she said.