Undergraduate Student Government debated at length about a proposal that would grant ex-officio senate members voting rights during Wednesday’s caucus.
Ex-officio senators are nominated by the USG president, Rachel Conboy. They can participate in USG with the exception of casting votes, and are elected through a recommendation and nomination process, according to Bennett Cognato, Elections Oversight Committee chairperson. They represent specific groups on campus, like Global House and the cultural centers.
USG has been successful in bringing more diverse voices from the student body to voting positions, and granting ex-officio members the power to vote follows that trend, Cognato said.
Standard Robert’s Rules of Order do not suggest that ex-officio members of any body should be without voting rights, according to Cognato, who advocated for granting ex-officio senators the right to vote, citing the qualifications and multi-step process required to attain the position.
“Ex-officios are already held to a certain set of responsibilities,” Haddiyyah Ali, commuter senator, said.
Ex-officio senators must constantly report back to the constituencies they serve. Meetings are often held to ensure the interests of the people they represent are effectively conveyed to USG, according to Banu Bayraktar, USG representative for the Women’s Center.
“Why not give ex-officios a vote? The senate has jurisdiction over whether or not they are elected. They should be able to fully contributed to USG,” Kassandra Pugliese, parliamentarian, said.
Conboy said that she was initially opposed to the idea of expanding voting rights for ex-officios until she researched the topic. A few bids for ex-officio positions were already turned down this year, showing that the position is not easy to come by, according to Conboy.
Stephanie Sponzo, McMahon senator, approved of granting ex-officios voting rights in the short term, noting the qualities of the current position holders.
“Not giving ex-officios voting seats perpetuates the idea that they are underrepresented. It’s a whisper, ‘keep us in mind’,” Sponzo said.
However, the problem of future relevancy was raised.
“Five or six years down the road, we don’t know who’s going to be there,” Sponzo said.
Issues of representation arose. Ex-officio members representing cultural centers may serve those who already have representation through other senators, according to Sponzo.
“Who are these seats representing? Are they only representing their cultural centers or the people their cultural centers represent? It’s less definitive than, ‘I represent McMahon’,” Sponzo said.
The proposal to grant ex-officio senators voting rights was also opposed by some senators.
The balance of legislative power would be disrupted, according to Adam Kuegler, vice president and chief operating officer of USG.
“If you are giving the president power to appoint 10 people, you are giving her 10 votes in a sense,” Kuegler said.
The executive branch of USG would effectively have 25 percent of voting power. Kuegler reasoned that ex-officio members would eventually be able to go on and run for voting seats anyways.
Granting ex-officio voting rights is a gray area, but adding certain parameters could make the proposal a possibility, according to Cognato. If ex-officio senators are granted voting rights, their terms could see a limit of one to two years to balance executive and legislative power, Cognato added.
“We do ourselves a disservice by not giving ex-officio senators voting rights. They are still held accountable and expected to represent students on campus,” Cognato said.
Stone Li is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.