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Saturday, February 24, 2024

What Student Government election results mean for Student Senate’s future

Change’s near one-third control can shift traditional Senate proceedings

Throughout its campaign, Change Party had its sights set on winning one-third of the Student Senate. During Monday’s Student Government elections, it finally met that goal — growing its minority caucus from eight senators to 31 and shrinking Gator Party’s supermajority control.

Change gained 27 seats and Gator earned 22 seats after the Oct. 3 election, with one tie in the Family Housing seat. Liberation Party won no seats.

The Family Housing seat was divided with one vote cast for the Gator candidate and one for a write-in candidate — Change didn’t slate a candidate for the seat. Senate will vote on the tiebreaker at the Oct. 11 general meeting.

A total of 9,858 votes were cast between both voting days on Sept. 27 and Oct. 3. Voter turnout was about 16.1%, a 2.5% increase from last year’s 13.6%, according to election results and 2021 university data

Change swept Districts C and D, as well as Graham, Hume, Infinity, Keys, Lakeside, Murphree, Springs, Tolbert and Yulee areas. Gator took Districts A, B and E, along with Beaty Towers, Broward-Rawlings and Jennings areas.

Districts flipped from Gator to Change control include District C, three seats in District D, Graham, Infinity, Keys, Murphree, Springs and Yulee.

Before this year, the largest independent party to challenge Gator’s control was the Inspire Party, which won 26 Senate seats in Fall 2019. Inspire disbanded after the Spring 2020 election, and Change filled its spot as the minority party Fall 2020.

Change’s platform included 24-hour libraries and more sustainability initiatives across campus. Gator’s platform featured an initiative to donate unused Flex Bucks to the Field & Fork Pantry and create student meet-and-greets with guest speakers and performers. Their full platforms were released online in September a week before elections began.

To achieve their platform goals, senators write and propose legislation to be voted on by the Senate. While some pieces of legislation require a simple majority to pass, others require a two-thirds supermajority, including votes to pass a resolution and to approve a Supreme Court justice.

Senate votes are calculated from the number of senators present. For example, if 60 senators are present at a meeting, then a majority vote requires 31 to pass, and a two-thirds vote requires 41 to pass.

Although one third of a full 100-person Senate would require 33 Senators, anywhere between 28 and 33 Senators serve the one-third’s purpose, Senator-elect Mohammed Faisal (District D-Change) said. 

Six of the 100 Senate seats are currently vacant, according to the Senate roster. Senate rarely sees perfect attendance at regular weekly meetings, further lowering the threshold of senators needed to represent one-third of those present. 

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Change plans to use their larger caucus to force more debate over legislation. In previous meetings, motions to previous question — which end debate — passed with overwhelming votes from Gator senators. The motion is typically passed to expedite the meeting, Sen. Oscar Santiago (District D-Change) said.

Now, Change has the chance to block the motion from passing with one-third dissent, forcing debate to continue. 

Debate allows senators to better understand the legislation they’re voting on, Santiago said, as well as increasing accountability among elected officials.

“Students really want accountability within our student leaders,” they said. “I think that having these debates will be crucial towards that goal.”

Santiago’s also hopeful the minority caucus will see more committee assignments in the coming semester, though they said they find it unlikely. 

Committee members are nominated by members of the Replacement and Agenda committee and approved by a majority of the Senate. Currently, all but one committee seat is held by a Gator senator.

Minority caucus leader Faith Corbett is the only Change senator, as a mandated part of the Replacement and Agenda Committee.

“A committee completely dominated by the majority party is not representative of our student senate and shouldn't be what determines whether or not our bill goes to the floor,” Santiago said.

Sen. Grace Shoemaker (Engineering-Change) teared up election night when she realized the possibilities that opened for Change after winning seats Monday. She said it was insane that Change’s vote might not be overwhelmingly suppressed by Gator’s anymore.

“This is crazy,” Shoemaker said on election night. “We can finally debate, which is nice.”

Gator doesn’t plan on changing its Senate strategies after this election, said Gator campaign manager and Senate President Elizabeth Hartzog.

The Elections Commission met Oct. 6 to hear election complaints: two from Change against Gator, and one from the Supervisor of Elections against Liberation. Both Change charges were dropped prior to the meeting. Liberation wasn’t present at the meeting and will face a $5 no-show fee. The commission also validated Election Day votes.

The election results will be certified by the Senate at the Oct. 11 meeting. The meeting is open to the public and will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Senate Chambers, found on the ground floor of the Reitz Union.

Contact Alissa at agary@alligator.org Follow her on Twitter @AlissaGary1.

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Alissa Gary

Alissa Gary is a second-year journalism major who's covering K-12 education for The Alligator. She has previously reported on student government and university administration.  Aside from writing, she likes to take care of her plants and play (and usually win) the New York Times sudoku puzzle.


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