The case for ex-officio voting rights

About 60 USG represents attended a meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. USG recently created an ex-officio senator position for veterans. (Junbo Huang/ The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government (USG) recently created an ex-officio senator position for veterans. This is good news for the underrepresented group of students, but such an action does not go far enough.

Ex-officio senators should be allowed voting rights. The best way to describe why this is the case comes from former USG senator Stephanie Sponzo, as reported in The Daily Campus last year.

“Not giving ex-officios voting seats perpetuates the idea that they are underrepresented. It’s a whisper, ‘keep us in mind,’” Sponzo said.

To pass out these limited, completely advisory positions without attaching any actual importance to them is illogical and insulting. Ex-officios have a responsibility to speak for their constituencies, whether they are from the Women’s Center or Global House, and those constituencies hold them accountable, just like any other senator.

As of right now, UConn USG ex-officio senators are essentially a part of a token diversity initiative. This would change if afforded voting rights.

It could be true that there will be issues of representative overlap. For instance, if one of the veteran students lives in McMahon, a situation may arise where they then have two senators voting in favor of their interests, creating an advantage over other students.

This could be fixed; USG is quite experienced when it comes to discussing internal issues. Besides, members of the Veterans Oasis or the African American Cultural Center have unique interests that are not addressed in ordinary legislative discourse.

Another possible argument against ex-officio voting, put forth by current student Board of Trustee Adam Kuegler during a debate on the topic last year, is that USG presidents shouldn’t have the power to appoint such a sizable portion of the Senate.

“If you are giving the president power to appoint 10 people, you are giving her 10 votes in a sense,” Kuegler said.

That “if” is a big one, since it wouldn’t happen if USG implemented ex-officio voting properly. As of right now, the USG president appoints four ex-officio senators at random, or as befits that current year. The other six are the cultural centers and the new veteran ex-officio. Haddiyyah Ali, a former commuter senator and current opinion columnist for The Daily Campus has a simple solution.

“I believe that in addition to a petition amongst the center, there should be a letter from the director required as usual,” Ali said.

If USG is serious about fashioning a diverse place for as many student voices as possible to be heard, they should continue moving in the direction of expanding ex-officio rights.

There is only one way to truly assure ex-officios and their communities are being paid attention to – grant them voting rights.