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Student Senate elections on the horizon, interims continue amplifying student voice

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Student Senate. Photo by Tim Zelina.

In a typical academic year, the Ohio University Student Senate would have conducted its first general body meeting Wednesday. 

But as the now cliche saying goes, “these aren’t normal times.”

Student Senate will not resume session until new executive officers are elected. While that election normally takes place during week 12 of the spring semester, the Senate Judicial Panel delayed the election due to the coronavirus pandemic sending students home in March, before election day and the ability to conduct in person voting. 

But Casey Hall-Jones, acting Chief Justice of the Judicial Panel, said with the uncertainty as to when the entire student body will return to campus, the election has been set for Sept. 14.

“If we were to play the game of ‘let’s just keep delaying until students are back,’ this (semester) wouldn’t have Senate this year at all because it will be spring by the time they return, if we’re lucky,” Hall-Jones said. 

All students enrolled at Ohio U will receive an email with an online link to cast their vote for candidates listed or for write-in candidates. 

The Panel oversees Senate elections, and Hall-Jones said the body has discussed ways of engaging and informing the student body about the upcoming election, such as extending the amount of time to cast a ballot and modifying the debate format. 

Hall-Jones explained students will have a 24-hour voting window beginning the evening of Sept. 13. 

“There’s significant doubt on whether a standardized, online debate would be a significant gatherer of student involvement, and if allowing candidates to simply respond to questions that were gathered from the general populous and then post those responses would be a better way to allow candidates to express their actual views and opinions to the electorate,” Hall-Jones said.

The debate could include student questions gathered from an online platform, such as Twitter. The candidates would then have time to write responses to the questions, and the responses would be posted to a social media platform and emailed to students. 

The Senate interim executive officers and the Panel are also working to be more active on social media and to email students newsletters with election information. 

“This is a problem we’ve had before,” Hall-Jones said. “Turnout is always bad in single ticket elections.”

He estimated a 2.5% voter turnout for the last election, which was also a single ticket. 

Hall-Jones said students will still have a choice to make on their ballots with some down the ballot positions contested and the ability to write in candidates. 

“I am hopeful that students will take the opportunity to engage in university politics due to the significant number of events that are occurring at this time, and will therefore be motivated to involve themselves via voting,” Hall-Jones said, but added that he thought that might be optimistic.

Besides working on the election, the interim executives have worked to amplify student concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic and Ohio U’s decision-making. 

“My biggest goal was to make sure that the student voice was heard and that when decisions were being made about fall semester that there was a student voice at the table,” interim President Janie Peterson said.

Throughout the summer, the interim executives communicated with Ohio U students and administration, as well as participated in and hosted town halls. They also fundraised for needs of international students and helped create the Ohio Pledge. 

Despite the lack of general body Senate meetings, students can share their concerns in Student Speakout sessions Wednesdays nights at 7:15 p.m. on Microsoft Teams until new executives are elected. Student Speakouts typically occur during Senate general body meetings and allow students to voice their thoughts to the body. 

“It was really important to the interim executives that student’s concerns and thoughts get shared and that students still have a place to come to,” Peterson said. “We thought it would be really important to continue those conversations and let students have that opportunity.”

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