On Feb. 18, the GUSA Constitutional Council ruled that the results of the Dec. 1 Senate restructuring referendum would remain invalid but allowed the invalidated results to be released.
The decision comes after an appeal was submitted by GUSA Senators Owen Hayes (COL ‘18) and Scott Lowder (COL ‘17), asking the Council to revisit its Jan. 20 decision to both invalidate the results of the referendum and prohibit their release on the grounds that GUSA had not presented the referendum’s content to the undergraduate body at least 14 days in advance, as required by the GUSA Constitution.
The appellants argued that GUSA had met the requirement to present the referendum to the student body within the 14-day time limit, that the federal “good faith” exception should be applied, that the original petition to discredit the results was not filed in an appropriate time frame, and that the Council itself did not have the power to invalidate the results.
The council rejected these arguments and clarified Article XIII Section 4 of the GUSA Constitution which outlines the 14-day time frame.
“This Council does not require GUSA to force each undergraduate to read proposed referenda in order for referenda votes to be valid,” the opinion reads. “Article XIII Section 4 obligates this demonstrative effort. Instead, what is consequential to this case, and the meaning of the Constitution, is that the undergraduate students of this University are provided with the clear and present opportunity to read proposed referenda if they so choose to do so.”
The Council also reversed their order to withhold the results of the referendum from their first decision. Originally, the council determined that the results could possibly bias voting if a second referendum were held on the same topic, especially if the results were misconstrued as valid. They also did not see any interest from students to have the results released. However, because the GUSA senate voted to appeal their ruling on Jan. 29, the council decided to dissolve that prohibition.
“With the Senate’s vote to appeal Angelini v. GUSA 2016-2-C in part because of this Council’s withholding of the December 1st Constitutional Referendum Results, the Senate has spoken on behalf of their constituents in favor of the release of the results,” read the decision. “The potential for bias, which is small and practically eliminated given the Council’s final Order, is outweighed by the demonstrative call for transparency.”
Both the appellants and the original petitioners agreed that the conflict over the referendum’s validity revealed potential areas of improvement for future GUSA referendums and elections.
D.J. Angelini, one of the original complaintants against the Dec. 1 referendum results was not worried about the release of the vote, but saw the council’s decision to nullify the results as an opportunity to amend the electoral process.
“As the results are entirely invalid, I feel the best use of the information will be for GUSA to analyze how they can further reform electoral processes moving forward or redesign the process of passing GUSA restructuring,” Angelini wrote in an email to the Voice.
Cherie Vu (COL ‘19), vice-speaker of the GUSA senate, commented that GUSA was using the conflict over the referendum as a jumping off point for further improvements in GUSA polling practices, including a new Election Reform Task Force made of election commissioners, senators, and students.
“This case has taught us to be more clear and precise about how we conduct elections so that there is no confusion or perceived conflict of interests,” wrote Vu in an email to the Voice. “We already have begun by-law changes within the Senate and have an Election Reform Task Force, composed of election commissioners, senators, and interested students, meeting weekly on this issue. We plan to use the results to supplement any reform we are currently making in the senate and determine what to do next to best serve the students.”