September 11, 2009

S.A. Decides Not to Expand Voting Rights of Undergrads

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The Student Assembly’s experiment with direct democracy that started last year with the first-ever generally-elected S.A. president and vice-president came to a halt yesterday with S.A. members’ decision to vote down Resolution 4 at their weekly meeting in the Straight.
The resolution aimed to give voting rights for members of the undergraduate community who showed interest in student affairs. If the resolution passed, “one vote [would have been] allocated to each non-elected undergraduate member of the Cornell community present at three consecutive S.A. meetings,” according to the resolution. These non-elected participants would only be able to have an equally-weighted vote on “sense-of-body resolutions … which excludes funding and budgetary decisions, amendments to the S.A. Charter and Standing Rules, the ability to make motions, the creation/dissolution of committees, and the selection of officers, committee members, and liaisons from the popularly elected SA (i.e. allocation of the Student Activity Fee, SAFC appeals, approval of Parliamentarian, Liaison to the Provost, etc.).” Students, however, will not have the chance to cast their votes in on assembly resolutions since the elected S.A. representatives voted 11-4 against the bill.
For S.A. President Rammy Salem ’10, the failure of this bill was not simply the loss of voting rights for undergraduates. Resolution 4, which was part of Salem’s election platform, was Salem’s attempt to improve undergraduate student engagement in assembly affairs. During the meeting, Salem argued that his proposal was needed to increase weekly student attendance at S.A. meetings.
“Regular attendance of undergraduates at S.A. meetings is abysmal,” he said, “if you can think of a better way to get more bodies into these seats, I support you.”
In support of Resolution 4, Williams argues that the resolution would give students more power in their own government and empower them to become involved.
“[This resolution] takes the politics out of the S.A.,” explained Executive Vice President Ola Williams ’10 and co-sponsor of the bill. “It gives a little bit of the power back to the people to vote on the things they actually care about.”
Yet, in the end, assembly members’ fear of the tyranny of the majority motivated them to vote down the resolution. Most of the S.A. representatives voiced concerns that in an effort to grant the people greater influence in the student government, the resolution would, in reality, take power away from the very officials that the people had elected to represent them.
With each vote weighted equally, a large group of students could potentially sway a vote to one side or another, although certain provisions within the bill sought to prevent just that.
Despite the final vote against this specific version of the bill, however, many S.A. representatives expressed a desire to continue discussing and refining the idea until they could reach an acceptable compromise.
“It’s still early on in the semester,” Natalie Raps ’12 noted, “I think as the semester goes on, we’ll continue to look at this and think about it, but it’s not something that should be decided quickly.”
Also voted on at the meeting was a motion in favor of the Inter-Fraternity Council’s decision to put a moratorium on all social events for seven days. The S.A. pledged their support for the IFC’s decision.[img_assist|nid=37979|title=Access denied|desc=Rammy Salem ’10 was unsuccessful in passing Resolution 4.|link=node|align=center|width=336|height=245][img_assist|nid=18875|title=Helping hand|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=471]
[img_assist|nid=32|title=Chili Cook-off|desc=By Robert Bonow / Sun Photo Editor Zach Israel, center, and Randi Darling both claim victory following a chili pepper eating contest on the Ithaca Commons at the annual Ithaca Chili Fest.|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=225]