Breaking: Sen. Lackey clinches SGA presidency in nail-biting second round

Savannah+Lackey+and+Ashton+Bearden+will+serve+as+the+2020-2021+SGA+President+and+Vice+President.+Photo+provided+by+Savannah+Lackey

Savannah Lackey and Ashton Bearden will serve as the 2020-2021 SGA President and Vice President. Photo provided by Savannah Lackey

Savannah Lackey, rising junior, won Mercer’s Student Government Association’s presidential election by 16 votes on Friday, narrowly defeating challenger Genesis Cooper and clinching victory in the second round of the SGA presidential elections.

Lackey won 50.9% of the total votes cast, or 454 votes, and Cooper won 49.1% of the ballots, or 438 votes. Lackey’s victory means she will lead SGA next year, taking over as current two-term president Adam Penland graduates this year.

Lackey’s running mate, Ashton Bearden, will be taking over for current vice president Michaela Jones.

“I’m so glad to be handing off the reins to Savannah and Ashton because both of them are very qualified,” Penland said. “Both of them are incredible leaders in SGA. I’m very excited to see what they can do, but I’m kinda sad it is coming to an end.”

The SGA president and vice president work together to advocate on behalf of students, meeting with Mercer President Bill Underwood once a month and with Dean of Students Douglas Pearson once a week, Penland said.

“Every petition that comes up about something, or every concern a student brings to us, we genuinely take that seriously,” Penland said. “We say (to administrators), ‘Look, the students are speaking, this is what they are concerned on. How do we get it done?’” 

Originally, three individual campaigns were contending for the position. Lackey ran with Bearden as her vice president. Cooper was joined by Sheridan King as her running mate. The third ticket was Kennedy Howery, who ran with Mary-Angel Ekezie as VP.

According to the SGA constitution, for a candidate to win, they must secure over 50% of the votes cast. In the first round of election, taking place Tuesday morning and extending into Wednesday evening, no candidates managed to reach this threshold. 

In the first election, all three candidates were within 42 votes of each other. Cooper received 342 votes, or 35.6% of the total ballots cast. Lackey and Bearden won 319 votes, securing 33.2% of the vote total. Howery and Ekezie won 300 votes, and 31.2% percent of the vote. 

With Howery and Ekezie winning the least votes, they were eliminated and sent Cooper and Lackey into the second round run off.

Following Mercer’s announcement earlier this month that in-person classes were suspended due to COVID-19—causing candidates to return home—the candidate meet-and-greet and presidential debate were canceled.

The actual vote totals, however, were not far off from recent elections in SGA history, Penland said. The first round saw 32-33% of student-body participating and casting their ballots. In the runoff, which traditionally does not generate the same vote totals, 28% of the student body voted.

“Everyone in the current administration, our election marshall, all of us were expecting a turnout rate of, truthfully, around 15-20% because they are generally that low. They are half of what you see you in a general election,” Penland said. “We were thrilled with the turnout, especially with the circumstances.”

The turnout was likely not impacted significantly as most votes in SGA elections happen online, and most of the campaigning for SGA president typically occurs online, Penland said. Penland also noted the considerable online efforts to get students to vote.

“We had a great support system from the provost and the IT department to ensure the email got sent out to the entire student body,” Penland said. “Letting Mercer know ‘Hey, we have to adapt to how we do this, but we are still moving forward. We are still having an election.’”

Penland and Jones will still continue fulfilling their duties for the rest of the school year, primarily supervising the upcoming SGA senate elections. But a large part of the process as of now is helping ensure a smooth transition in power.

“We will all be (in) a Zoom meeting in the next couple weeks,” Penland said. “We’re going (to go) ahead and start training them in what you need to do when it comes to these sort of things, when it comes to the freshman elections next semester.”

The upcoming senate race will start qualifications—the prerequisite for standing in the election—next Tuesday and go until Wednesday evening. This will be available online, in both an email sent out by the class presidents as well as being available on the SGA website. 

Students will cast their ballots April 7-8, with the results being released on SGA social media accounts around 5:30-6 p.m. on April 8. There are 20 seats that are up for election, Penland said.

Penland mentioned his sadness with the year ending how it did, but expressed his excitement for the new leadership team for next year.

“It has been an honor of a lifetime to serve on SGA for the past 4 years,” Penland said. “It is sad that is how it ends in this way, with classes moving online for the rest of the semester. I’m excited for the future of SGA, and I am sure we have left SGA in capable hands.”