Dual-degree students face challenges voting
Students can only vote in 'home school,' which may be randomly assigned
March 21, 2013, 11:09 pm·
Being a dual-degree student is supposed to forward your goals, but for College and Wharton freshman Sebastian Negron-Reichard, it was more of an obstacle.
Last fall, Negron-Reichard — a Daily Pennsylvanian contributing writer — ran for Class of 2016 Wharton chair and ended up in a tie. There was a runoff election, which he lost. This week, Negron-Reichard is running again for a Wharton seat in the Undergraduate Assembly. However, he had issues with the way the elections were originally conducted.
He claims that his loss last semester was partly due to a political disenfranchisement of students in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business, and of dual-degree students in general. “It was very sad to see a hall full of my best friends not being able to vote for me,” he said.
The way dual-degree voting and voting constituency in general works is that each student has a home school in the Office of the Registrar’s database, explained College junior Frank Colleluori, Nominations and Elections Committee Vice Chair for Elections.
For most, that’s an easy thing to assign, but for dual-degree students, the home school is decided by which school the larger portion of tuition goes to, according to Negron-Reichard. For Huntsman Program students, that is an even split, so their home school is arbitrarily designated as the College.
The home-school designation determines which school a student can vote for in representative elections. For Negron-Reichard, his fellows in the Hunstman Program could not vote for him in the Wharton chair election because they could only vote for candidates from the College. Similarly, students in the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology can only vote for Engineering candidates.
The problem for Negron-Reichard is that “we in Huntsman identify very much with Wharton, so I want to represent Wharton.”
This is not the first time this issue has come up, “but it’s always kind of been accepted as the status quo,” said Colleluori.
“I saw this as a serious enough problem on campus and reached out to the University to see what could be done,” he added.
The system can’t be changed, however, because the underlying technology infrastructure — the coding behind the website where students vote — would have to be changed and the IT team had been busy working on other infrastructure changes until the formal start of campaigning.
This left the NEC “no time to make the upgrade and adequately test it to ensure that no unforeseen consequences or coding mistakes rendered all of the elections biased. Such an error would require us to rerun the entire process and bring student government to something of a standstill,” Colleluori said.
Despite the lack of change today, Colleluori is optimistic. “It is likely that dual-degree students will indeed be able to vote in both schools in the near future,” he said in an email.
This is a contentious topic for some, as it raises the question of why dual-degree students should be allowed to vote twice.
“The reality is that not every student is comfortable with some individuals being able to vote in two elections,” Colleluori said in an email. “For those who see them as just a logistical convenience, allowing students enrolled in two different schools to vote twice would actually double their representation as opposed to more accurately [reflecting] their dual-degree status.”
Others in the NEC are quick to acknowledge this question. “There are times when Engineering UA positions have been uncontested and I would’ve liked to vote in Wharton,” NEC Chair and Wharton and Engineering senior Alec Miller said. “But we want to avoid giving dual-degree students double representation in the UA.”
Many students agree with a more tempered approach, even among Negron-Reichard’s closest supporters. They endorse a solution that would allow dual-degree students to choose their home school constituency.
“Ultimately, I think dual degrees should … not necessarily vote in both, but choose the one they feel closest to and vote there,” College and Wharton freshman Jorge Barriga said.
Negron-Reichard, meanwhile, sees no problem with double representation. “Huntsman people aren’t taking advantage of the fact that they’re in two schools. We simply are in two schools and should be represented in both,” he said.
The ability to vote in both schools, if changed within the infrastructure, would then be up to the discretion of the NEC. Constitutionally, it decides how all voting abilities and behaviors will work. It may deny dual-degree students the right to vote in both schools.
In that case, Colleluori said, “It’ll be up to the UA to represent and consider [the dual-degree students’] interests that much better.”
Negron-Reichard and his supporters, however, are still vocalizing their views to the NEC.
“Last semester, this was something very important to me. Everyone else running could get their friends and hallmates to vote for them, and at the start of the year when you don’t know many people, those people are your best allies,” he said, noting that many Huntsman students live together in a tightly-knit hall in King’s Court/English House.
“I just don’t want another student to go through this,” he added.
A previous version of the article quoted Colleluori saying that allowing students enrolled in two different schools to vote twice would double their representation as opposed to more accurately [reflecting] their dual-degree status. The article has been updated to reflect that Colleluori was giving the point of view of those who are involved in the debate and not his personal view.