14 percent of seniors vote to fill SGA vacancies

By DIVA PAREKH | September 20, 2018

The Committee on Student Elections (CSE) announced the results of the Student Government Association (SGA) Senior Class Council elections on Monday, Sept. 17. 

After only one student, Jennifer Baron, ran for Senior Class Senate during SGA’s annual Class Council elections in May, five seats remained vacant. To fill these seats, CSE held special elections, for which the voting period began on Wednesday, Sept. 12 and ended the following Sunday.

Nine seniors ran for their Class Council and five students were elected — Ash Panakam, Fatima Bouftas, Madeleine Uraih, Akshay Bhamidipati and Gianni Thomas. A total of 187 students voted in the special elections, which marks a 52.7 percent decrease from the regular elections in May. Of the eligible student body, consisting of only seniors, 14.3 percent cast their ballots.

Thomas believes that a reason the voter turnout decreased was because students tend to become more apathetic as they get older. He hopes to change this by giving students across the entire political spectrum a platform.

“There’s a strong sentiment on campus that regardless of what we do, the administration’s just going to do whatever they want,” he said. “Students feel like even if they do run, their voice won’t be heard.”

Due to the vacant seats on the Senior Class Council, CSE emailed rising seniors on August 1 asking students if they were interested in joining. CSE and SGA gave seniors 13 days to decide if they wanted to run and then write a brief statement indicating their interest.

Once all interested students had sent in their responses, the Special Election Commission (SEC), consisting of three CSE members and three SGA members, had to decide whether to conduct a special election or use the SGA vacancy application process.

Executive Vice President AJ Tsang was a part of the SEC as a non-voting seventh member. Tsang, who is also a senior, had never heard of SGA having so many vacancies during an election.

“This would be our class’ last year at Hopkins,” he said. “With five out of the seven seats on the Class Council missing, we arrived at the conclusion that the class should have a democratic say in who it was.”

According to him, the SGA vacancy application process works more efficiently when only one or two vacant seats need to be filled. An example he cited was when former freshman Class Senator Nicolas Daurio resigned in the spring and Sam Mollin took his place after going through the vacancy application process.

Another factor that went into SEC’s decision, Tsang added, was the amount of interest the email on Aug. 1 had generated.

“If it was above 10 people, we would do a special election,” he said. “And initially, there were about 20 people who expressed interest in running.” 

SGA Executive President Noh Mebrahtu announced the special elections in an email sent to the senior class student body on Sept. 12, the first day of voting. The voting period and campaigning period for the special elections were the same. While candidates running in the Class Council elections in May needed their petitions signed by a minimum of 200 potential voters, candidates for the special elections did not need to petition at all. 

The petitioning process was part of the reason Gianni Thomas chose not to run for SGA during the May elections.

According to Thomas, the fact that one person ran during the regular elections and nine ran during the special elections shows that the special election process worked better. He believes that using technology would work better than the current petitioning process.

“When you’re pressuring someone with a piece of paper to sign a form, it’s almost impossible for that person to say no,” Thomas said. 

Akshay Bhamidipati, served as a Class Senator during his freshman and sophomore years, could not run during the May elections because he was studying abroad last spring. The regular election process required him to be present on campus. The special elections, he said, gave him a second chance at being part of SGA during his last year at Hopkins. 

Bhamidipati’s goal for his upcoming year in SGA is to get as many students as possible registered to vote.

He also spoke to SGA’s evolving role, adding that the progress is gradual but still present.

“A lot of people have a lot of grand ideas to get a lot of things done, and everyone’s heart is in the right place,” he said. “Our role is primarily advisory. We can suggest or urge the administration to do something, but we can’t compel them.” 

Like Bhamidipati, Ash Panakam, Fatima Bouftas, and Madeleine Uraih have prior experience on SGA. 

Panakam spent two years as Class Senator and one as Class President. Panakam’s goals for the year center on improving student access to mental health services and facilitating student-faculty communication.

She added that as the oldest Class Council, her and her colleagues’ role during the upcoming year will be unique.

“Seniors have a pretty important voice in directing student government’s efforts throughout the school year and also for guiding underclassmen,” Panakam said.

Senior Class President Zanir Habib appreciated the diversity of that he felt the new Class Council would bring to SGA.

“The more different opinions you have, the better our legislation will be, the better we’re able to make change that the students would like to see,” he said. “The Senior Class Council’s goal is to re-engage the students so that they’re able to give back to the school and so they leave Hopkins with a sense of fulfillment.”

He believes that the reason only one student ran for senior Class Senate in the regular elections may have been that the senior class has no centralized dining areas or residence halls that candidates could use to get their petitions signed. 

According to Habib, voter turnout decreased because the special election was not as widely publicized as the regular election in May. He added, however, that the special election gave students another opportunity to have their voices heard.

“Many people don’t learn about the good work that SGA does,” Habib said. “With the special election, we said, ‘Look, if you want your voice heard, if you’d like to make the change you’d like to see on this campus, go ahead and run.’”

Mebrahtu agreed, adding that this was the first time SGA had held non-freshman elections during the fall, which the student body may not have been used to.

SGA still has one open seat in the Junior Class Council following Senator Jessup Jong’s resignation, for which the vacancy application process started on Tuesday, Sept. 18. After applications close on Saturday, Sept. 22, SGA will interview candidates and choose a new Junior Class Senator by Tuesday, Sept. 25.

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