Each year, Wellesley College Government and the Elections Committee run the Ballot Initiative, which seeks proposals from the student body to improve life on campus. The monetary worth of the ballot initiative is two percent of the Student Activities Fee, which is approximately $11,000. A Ballot Initiative funds a single proposal for one year.
Mass support is important for a Ballot Initiative to win. Before it is allowed to be an option for the student body to vote on, it needs to gather support from three current senators from three different constituencies, with one of the senators having served in Senate for at least two years. It also needs to demonstrate support from five percent of the student body – approximately 115-120 signatures – in the form of a petition. It will then have to present its ideas to Senate, along with details on its financial viability, proof of support and leadership structure. Should it pass in Senate, the Ballot Initiative will be put up for voting by the student body alongside voting for College Government Cabinet positions during Elections Week. The Ballot Initiative must then gather at least 51 percent of all votes in order to win.
As submitting a Ballot Initiative is a lengthy process, advance planning is needed. Suzanne Barth ‘16, President of the Student Leadership Stipend Committee and the Campaign Manager of the Student Leadership Stipend Ballot Initiative campaign for the 2015-2016 academic year, emphasized the need for an early start.
“If you don’t start planning well in advance of elections season, it can be pretty tricky getting everything done in time for the deadlines. After you’ve had your idea, you’ll want to assemble a campaign team and begin soliciting student signatures in support of your initiative. Getting the required number isn’t hard if your idea is viable, but it will take time,” noted Barth.
College Government President Adeline Lee ’16 emphasized the variety of forms the Ballot Initiative can take, from a rolling culinary arts series, transportation subsidies to clinics, to even the provision of two-ply toilet paper. In 2014, the Elections Committee of the College Government received an email from a student looking to submit a proposal for Charmin or Cottonelle toilet paper to be distributed first throughout residential halls and eventually in academic buildings.
“The student never formally submitted her proposal for Senate approval due to the work involved in campaigning for the ballot initiative as well as the paperwork that needed to be submitted in advance. With all this said though, the two-ply toilet paper idea has certainly been an idea that has stuck in my mind as an example of how creatively our ballot initiative can extend to serve a campus full of students,” said Lee.
With their target audience being the entire Wellesley student body, Ballot Initiatives are also meant to be inclusive. Past initiatives put up for student voting have included a proposal in 2014 from Wellesley Spontaneous Moments in the Lives of Everyday Students (SMiLES), which aimed to increase the size, scope and permanence of events organized to combat stress culture and foster community at Wellesley.
In addition to inclusivity, Severance Hall Senator Amelia Tam ’18, emphasized the importance of Ballot Initiatives that deal with issues not currently targeted within the current Wellesley framework.
“I think a good Ballot Initiative should benefit the Wellesley community at large, but particularly those students whose needs cannot be fully addressed within the existing network of resources,” Tam said.
This was certainly the case for the Student Leadership Stipend (SLS) Ballot Initiative, which used the Ballot Initiative as a platform to garner support for Resident Assistant (RA) and House President (HP) compensation, as students in these positions were uncompensated by the college until last semester. The SLS dominated the Ballot Initiative for the past four years and used the funds to provide stipends for eligible Student Leaders in the interim.
The ballot initiative for the 2016-2017 academic year is thus especially significant, as RAs and HPs are now compensated with a $2,400 stipend and no longer need to use the Ballot Initiative as a source of compensation.
“I am very excited for future years of the ballot initiative, because I believe now that RAs and HPs will be compensated by the college, the ballot initiative can be rightfully returned to the creative minds of the students,” said Barth.
Severance Hall Executive Senator Elizabeth Kysel ’18 also noted the importance of this year’s Ballot Initiative in setting an example for later years.
“I think that this is a key moment for the Ballot Initiative as if we don’t get off again on the right foot, it may be years before we see another Ballot Initiative that could make a difference on campus,” Kysel said.
It is in this spirit that College Government has increased publicity for the Ballot Initiative. This includes getting Senators to relay information about the Ballot Initiative to House Councils, sending out campus-wide informational emails with the Ballot Initiative information attached, and holding two information sessions about the ballot initiative this March.
Lee not only expressed her hope for new ideas to be proposed, but also emphasized that should there be no Ballot Initiative this year, the $11,000 will be redirected into a contingency fund for student organizations. Thus, funds set aside for the Ballot Initiative will still be returned and redistributed to students, albeit through a different channel.
“All in all, we on CG all hope that ideas will pop up for a new ballot initiative in this Spring’s CG Elections, but it really depends year-to-year on what the climate is on campus as well as which students have the time and ability to put initiatives forward,” said Lee.
With the variety of ideas thrown up at similar events like that of Ideafest, a similar variety may also be the case for this year’s ballot initiative – including ideas that seem out of the ordinary.
“I’m personally still hoping that one of the initiatives is a petting zoo,” Tam said.