In the College’s recent Student Government Association (SGA) elections, students had the opportunity to vote for their class officers and the SGA executive board. For the most part, the elections ran smoothly; however, some students raised concerns about the voting process. For example, If a candidate ran unopposed for an SGA position, then the online ballot required students to vote for that candidate. Students could not turn in their ballots until they had selected a candidate for every position, so the voting process compelled students to vote for candidates that they had no interest in supporting. They did not have the option to write-in another candidate or abstain from voting on that specific office.
In an email interview, The Colby Echo discussed this controversy with Jackson Rockett `23, a Senator who recently won re-election.
“To my knowledge, the requirement for students to cast votes for unopposed candidates was not intentionally included and was simply an error in the online voting system. Given the lack of other candidates running, it is somewhat difficult to argue that any of the results would have changed had there not been a requirement to vote for unopposed candidates,” Rockett said. “However, I recognize that this preliminary round of ranked-choice voting has exposed some of the flaws that must be improved upon in subsequent elections.”
As Rockett noted, SGA implemented ranked-choice voting this academic year. While SGA has yet to meet to discuss this past election they had already extensively covered the election process in past meetings.
“We did spend a considerable amount of time this past summer amending the SGA constitution to ensure that ranked-choice voting was able to be implemented effectively. In fact, we voted upon a motion pertaining to adopting ranked-choice voting this past September, which allowed for the ranked-choice voting approach to be utilized once spring rolled around,” Rockett said.
When SGA amended its Constitution to change the voting process to that of ranked-choice voting, it added a section requiring the ballot to have space for write-in candidates.
“The motion also further stipulates that space to write-in candidates is required, as articulated in the newly codified Article VII, Section 1 § D-i, which reads as follows: ‘In all SGA elections, one blank line must be included for write-in candidates. The write-in candidate is ranked in the same manner as all formal candidates,’” Rockett said. “In recognizing that the election forms both required all voters to vote for unopposed candidates, regardless of whether they supported the candidates, the possibility of a candidate receiving less than 50% of the vote needed to win was negated, inadvertently undermining the reason ranked-choice voting was employed in the first place.”
Rockett acknowledged that the past elections did not follow the new constitutional amendment.
“The failure to include a write-in space did present a conflict with the recently amended language of the constitution. These two significant shortcomings of the first attempt at ranked-choice voting have been recognized amongst SGA members and will certainly influence the handling of future elections moving forward,” Rockett said.
However, Rockett believes that the recent election will help SGA in the future.
“I feel strongly that this past election will provide crucial guidance as to how to improve the ranked-choice voting approach as we evaluate how to approach future elections. Moving forward, SGA must ensure that elections are carried out as democratically as possible, especially since the switch to ranked-choice voting was done so to do just that. This election was not exempt from mistakes, but it certainly will serve as an example of how to improve the SGA elections as a whole,” Rockett said.
While a few positions saw candidates run unopposed, none warranted as much controversy as the election of SGA President and Vice President, which Lukas Alexander `22 and Laura Powell `22 won, respectively. They ran unopposed, but because of a dispute before the election, some students did not want to vote for them. The ballot forced them to do so anyways. Lutie Brown `22 discussed this controversy with The Colby Echo.
On the Class of 2022 Instagram page, Alexander and Powell posted a bingo board containing winter activities. Critics argued that some of these activities, such as skiing or tubing, are not accessible to all Colby students. Brown, one of these critics, repurposed the bingo board and posted it to her Instagram story. Through this repost, Brown asked students to donate to Colby Mutual Aid if they had participated in any of the activities on the bingo board.
“Laura and Lukas contacted me on the day that I reposted their board on my story. They stated: ‘While we appreciate the work of Colby Mutual Aid, this activity was not meant for fundraising and we kindly would ask you to stop.’ I interpreted their message as a request for me to delete my story,” Brown said. “I did not comply with their request to remove the post, because I was and am in my own right to repost any of their content on my own story.”
“I responded to their frustration with the fact that I was ‘using [their] bingo board activity which was meant for our class as a fundraising tool for Colby Mutual Aid’ by saying ‘I understand that it might not have been intended as such but it can still be used for good in this way,’” Brown continued. “I thought their bingo board could easily have been repurposed for a good cause, as they posted it without context or explanation of what students should do or accomplish upon receiving a ‘bingo’ of winter activities. Therefore, I reposted it with the captions, ‘@Colby for every box you get, donate $5 to @colbymutualaid and donate $25 for every bingo,’ and ‘Donate $50 for every time you went to Sugarloaf this year and another $50 for each night of your Airbnb over break,’ with the intention of sparking reflection among wealthier class members and encouraging the redistribution of their wealth to Colby Mutual Aid as an action step,” Brown said.
Following this exchange, Alexander and Powell said that they would like to partner with Colby Mutual Aid in the future. Brown is not affiliated with Colby Mutual Aid, but encouraged Alexander and Powell to reach out.
“The last two sentences of their response was ‘The class of 2022 would love to partner with the mutual aid for an event in the future. Could you reach out to us with times for us to brainstorm an event?’ to which I responded ‘I do not represent Colby Mutual Aid myself, but would recommend that you reach out to their account via Instagram to discuss collaborations going forward.’ They liked my message,” Brown said.
Despite Brown’s encouragement, Alexander and Powell never approached Colby Mutual Aid.
“According to the organizers, Lukas and Laura never followed through on their statement and never contacted Colby Mutual Aid to discuss a partnership. Judging from their silence, I believe that they had no intention of actually partnering with the fund going forward, and instead were more interested in asking me to stop asking my peers to reflect on their status and redistribute their wealth,” Brown said. “I reposted my story with screenshots of the conversation last week, and they have since removed the entire bingo board from their Instagram account, therefore also removing my original story (captioning the board) from my Highlights page. These actions show that they have no genuine interest in working with Colby Mutual Aid to redistribute the wealth at this school, and are instead most interested in preserving their own self image.”
When Brown realized that the online ballot compelled students to vote for Alexander and Powell, she was outraged.
“Now, they are our SGA President and Vice President for 2021-2022 having received 100% of the vote, not because 100% of the student body supports them, but because in order for any student to submit their ballot for any ticket in the SGA election this year, they were forced to affirm their vote for Lukas and Laura — with no option to abstain or write-in another candidate,” Brown said. “SGA apparently overhauled the election procedure when they switched to ranked-choice voting, but did not inform the student body that they had removed the write-in option or that there would be no option to abstain. Such elections are completely undemocratic, and the general student population had no idea such changes were in the works and thus could not voice our opinions against the changes.”
The mistakes made in implementing ranked-choice voting have eroded Brown’s confidence in SGA.
“SGA had all year to prepare for this election, and I find it alarming that while they were switching to a ranked-choice voting system this year, not a single member of SGA seemed to have noticed the issues with not having a write-in or abstain option. SGA’s changes quietly affected the entire voting process, and our own student representation and governance for the next academic year. Such egregious errors have sacrificed my faith in the integrity of SGA elections, and I am further disappointed in how SGA has yet to take accountability for their actions and address them to the student body,” Brown said.
The Colby Echo reached out to Alexander and Powell but received no response.
~ Matt Rocha ‘23