Student Senate

Changes to Freshmen Elections Handbook draw criticism from senators

The Student Senate approved changes to the Freshmen Elections Handbook after contention over a new rule that ordered ballot names from most nominations to least.

During the meeting, Graduate Senator Alexander Lutsevich asked Evan Wadley ’23, the Elections Commission chairperson and presenter, how ballot names were sorted in the past. Wadley responded that the names from the most recent election were sorted alphabetically, but on ballots before that, the names were randomized. He also added that the highest name on a ballot gave a two percent advantage for receiving votes according to research.

Undergraduate President Ria Massoni ’24 disagreed with the change, arguing that the proposed system penalizes students who joined late during the elections. Lutsevich further commented that situations such as heavy course loads or a family death may hinder nomination progress and concluded randomized ballots were the fairest solution.

However, Wadley defended the Elections Commission’s decision, asserting that ballots sorted by nomination count were more fair. “We don’t think that marginal gains from your location on the ballot are too much of a drawback for someone who doesn’t have as much time as someone else,” Wadley said.

Class of 2024 Representative Harper Chisari ’24 suggested that the more nominations a candidate received, the better they represented the students, to which Wadley agreed. Class of 2023 Senator Alexander Patterson ’23 added that having ballot positions dependent on nomination count would incentivize freshmen to spread the word about student government.

Lutsevich asked Wadley to elaborate why the Elections Commission didn’t stick with randomized ballots. Wadley clarified that the online voting system used for Rensselaer elections did not have the capability to randomize each individual ballot. However, the commission was able to use the same randomized order for all ballots, but this method gave an unfair advantage to candidates who managed to place first on the ballot.

Graduate Senator Adam Tidball suggested randomizing the ballots based on time, such that two students voting thirty minutes apart would see different ballots. Wadley replied that this was possible but was unsure if manipulating the time would affect the voting program.

Near the end of the discussion, Lutsevich proposed reverting the freshmen election ballots to use randomization, asserting that this was the best solution available. Lutsevich then requested an amendment to the motion that required ballot positions to be randomized by the Elections Commission before freshmen elections. The amendment did not pass.

The original motion to approve changes to the Freshmen Elections Handbook passed 9-2-0, with Lutsevich and Tidball voting against.

Other changes to the Freshmen Elections Handbook include a statement restricting members of the Elections Commission from running or sharing opinions during the elections, increasing the number of nominations required for a ballot position, and introducing a clause that requires students running for multiple positions to choose a preferred position beforehand in case they won both.

After the motion, Class of 2024 Senator Austin Jefferson ’24 remarked that there is no Senate representative for the Elections Commission.

This Student Senate meeting was held on September 14. The Student Senate meets every Wednesday at 8 pm in the Student Government Suite.