NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

SGA launches virtual campaign and voting

In light of coronavirus-caused social distancing guidelines, the Northern Essex Community College Student Government Association’s Elections Committee is moving forward with conducting solely virtual election campaigning, via social media, and voting, through the NECC Blackboard page; voting is planned to be open from May 4 to 11.

The SGA serves as the liaison between student voices and the NECC administration and traditionally conducts voting on Blackboard.

The Elections Committee was formed prior to NECC’s March 12 campus closure and is chaired by the student government’s Acting Vice President of Lawrence Rosielis Herrera Berroa.

Its other members include SGA President Samantha Cook and SGA Secretary (and record-keeper) Chloe Upham. Usually, students who want to run for student government positions must secure 50 student signatures on a registration form and then submit said form to the SGA’s staff-based advisor (who certifies SGA votes) for approval.

This time, both students running for reelection and prospective SGA members running this election cycle will have to submit a link to a Google form (signed by 50 students digitally) to Advisor Stephanie Haskell via email by the registration deadline of April 30 for bids to be approved.

Students can obtain their forms by contacting Haskell via email and providing her with a picture and short description or bio of themselves. Haskell creates a unique Google form for each candidate; each form is tailored to a candidate’s desired position and bio. Herrera Berroa says Haskell will also provide each candidate a detailed description of their desired position.

In order for a student’s candidacy to be approved by Haskell, they must have at least a  2.3 GPA and be registered for a minimum of 6 credits in the semester during which they are running, says Herrera Berroa. Herrera Berroa adds that 14 students, all new to the SGA, have so far filed to run.

Herrera Berroa says that deadline extensions could be effected through a SGA vote if at least one candidate presents evidence of circumstances which prevent them from registering on time. Such extensions would apply to all students running.

SGA positions consist of two main categories: Executive Board members, such as President, Vice Presidents of the Haverhill and Lawrence campuses and Secretary, and general members. While general members can join the SGA after securing 50 signatures, E-Board members must, in addition to obtaining signatures, be elected through an online poll which is planned to be put, per tradition, on the front page of the college’s Blackboard during election week. According to the SGA’s constitution, both those who run for reelection and those who have never held executive office must get 50 student signatures. Currently, five of the SGA’s nine E-board positions are unfilled.

During a Thursday April 9, public SGA Zoom meeting, Haskell said that the SGA’s use of NECC’s Blackboard front page is not set in stone. She clarified that if the college were to need to use the front page to address a hypothetical crisis, the SGA would acquiesce and conduct voting elsewhere.

But even though virtual voting is a long-standing SGA precedent, virtual campaigning is not. Candidates traditionally rely on on-campus interactions and college bulletin boards for self-promotion. The unrest this break from tradition has caused among some SGA members can be easily observed in remarks made by Haverhill Campus Vice President Courtney Morin during the April 9 meeting: “There are a lot of campuses that are postponing their elections to next semester; it’s just something to be aware of. I know my biggest concern is how students are going to get those 50 signatures. Because I, personally, would not know how to get them. I’m not friends with 50 people [from NECC]. And I’m pretty active in the Northern Essex community.”

In response to Morin’s concern, Cook offered an alternative signature collection strategy. She said, “I would assume the easiest way to do it is to ask your teacher to post something on Blackboard. You also have an option to email people through Blackboard or through using the Navigate app…So that might be another way for students to share it.”

In an interview with the Observer, Herrera Berroa recommended that students ask their professors to send out mass emails to students in order to secure signatures and campaign. She also encouraged those running for SGA positions to use social media to self-advertise and to ask acquaintances to use social media to help advertise. Two last pieces of advice she offered were that, “As soon as they get everything ready, [students] can start campaigning. Or they can collect signatures and campaign at the same time.”

Herrera Berroa said that a majority of E-board members are leaving NECC at the end of the spring 2020 semester, including herself; she says she is transferring to Bridgewater State University in the fall 2020 semester. Because of the anticipated loss of E-Board members, Herrera Berroa articulated that the SGA may hold special elections in the fall 2020 semester.

“If, for any reason, we don’t have the Executive Board positions filled, we will hold special elections…The new chair of the elections committee would have to organize it, according to our constitution and by law,” she said.

But Haskell stressed that while holding special elections in the fall is being modeled by various other Mass. state and community colleges, such a plan would be far from ideal: “My goal, as the advisor, is to have as full of a board as we can. It makes things go a lot more smoothly.”

According to Herrera Berroa, virtually no infighting is occurring within the Elections Committee. She attributes this placidity to her total following of the SGA’s constitution.

She concludes, “Don’t be afraid to be part of change. There’s so much we can do, and I know that students want to change a lot of things within NECC. And if you join SGA, you can be part of it. There is so much you learn.”

            Herrera Berroa is the primary contact for students who wish to express concerns or ask questions regarding the elections. She says that students who, for whatever reason, cannot reach her via email should contact Haskell via email.