The Constitutional Council reviewed the manner in which the Elections Board presented the Student Government Association (SGA) Constitution amendments to the student body. The council will release the results of the hearing following its deliberations.
The eight amendments, which were passed earlier this month during the University-wide elections, made minor wording changes to the Constitution, detailed SGA’s powers to remove divisional council and club officers and changed the constitutional amendment process. All amendments passed by an all-student referendum during elections.
The amendments raised controversy during elections, when both SGA presidential candidates and other members of the Emory community urged students to vote no to the changes. Most critics argued SGA rushed the amendment process and didn’t publicize the referendum appropriately.
College junior and newly-elected SGA College-wide Representative Aaron Tucek filed a complaint last week against the Elections Board that challenged the results of the referendum on behalf of Emory College students.
Tucek’s complaint asserted that the Elections Board failed to appropriately publicize the referendum, send notifications to the student body and provide students with the text of the proposed amendments prior to elections.
The Constitutional Council â€” which is made up of students in the College, the Goizueta Business School and the School of Law â€” decided to convene because of Tucek’s complaint. The hearing consisted of opening statements and closing statements by Elections Board, SGA and Tucek and questions by the Council.
“We want to make sure that, while we follow decorum, we’re also addressing the pertinent questions,” James Crowe, College junior and chief justice of the Constitutional Council, said.
Tucek presented his arguments in his opening statements during the hearing.
“I ask the Constitutional Council to invalidate this referendum,” Tucek said.
SGA Attorney General and College junior Chris Weeden, who spoke on behalf of SGA, said this debate about the Elections Board’s adherence to the elections code falls under the jurisdiction of the SGA Legislature because the Elections Board is a body under SGA. He added that the Constitution gives the Legislature the power to oversee elections and this question ought to be put up to a legislative vote, rather than a council hearing.
Crowe said the central questions of the case were whether or not the Elections Board failed its duties, and if it did, whether that justified overturning the referendum.
Tucek presented evidence which he said he believed proved that the Elections Board failed to meet their obligations in accordance with the elections code. According to him, only one of the four emails the Elections Board sent to the student body gave students access to the full text of the amendments. This email was sent to students approximately 20 minutes prior to the election period, which Tucek said was insufficient publicity of the amendments, which have a large impact on the government’s organization.
“An amendment fundamentally changes the structure of student government,” he said.
He also cited a portion of the elections code that stipulates that the Elections Board must send an email to the student body at least 48 hours before the election that includes the full text of the amendments. Tucek argued that the email, which provided a link to the full text, was insufficient and should have been sent 48 hours before the election and included the amendment text itself.
College senior and Elections Board Chair Matthew Pesce responded to Tucek’s arguments on behalf of the Elections Board.
Pesce said the full text of the amendments were available to students via multiple means, including the legislative agenda on SGA’s website, the SGA listserv, the SGA Facebook page, the link in the aforementioned email and an article published in the Wheel.
“To the best of my knowledge, that meets every obligation placed on us except the specification that we send out an email 48 hours prior to the election,” Pesce said.
While he acknowledged that the email was not sent 48 hours prior to the election, Pesce said he did not believe providing the full text of the amendments would have significantly impacted the vote. According to him, the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the amendments, with a more than 1,000 vote margin.
“I wonder if all 5,000 people who voted, if they got a massive text of the amendments, whether they would have actually read them,” Pesce said. “I suspect no.”
He added that if the Constitution Council valued the democratic process, then overturning amendments of which the student body was so overwhelmingly in favor would be “horribly strange.”
Tucek argued that the Elections Board could have also publicized the amendments through other means, including sending more detailed emails, hosting a town hall and disseminating arguments for and against the amendments.
Pesce responded that technology does not allow for the full text to be published in an email because it is “exceedingly difficult” to get University-wide emails approved. He added that a full text on the ballot would also be impossible because the balloting software has a word limit.
In regards to the town hall and other publicizing methods, Pesce said he did not believe students would attend such events and that the Elections Board had actually exceeded the minimum requirements so long as the Constitutional Council read the elections code “pretty liberally.”
College sophomore Reuben Lack, former College Council budget chair and former candidate for SGA vice president who attended the meeting as an observer, said he did not believe the council should reject the referendum because the student body was still in favor of it despite the controversy surrounding it.
Tucek said there is a difference between the SGA and the Wheel publicizing the referendum and the Elections Board itself doing so. He stressed the importance of the right of the students to see the full text of the amendments before the election and the democratic process.
“The Emory student body trusts the Elections Board to provide them with information about the elections,” Tucek said. He added that allowing the referendum to pass in light of clear violations to the elections code would undermine the validity of the code itself.
Pesce, however, insisted that his arguments â€” the will of the student body and the low chances that the vote would have changed â€” outweighed a potential violation of the elections code.
“The elections code, even the revised version, contains a zillion peculiar things that even I scratch my head about,” Pesce said.
Both Tucek and Pesce had comments in regards to the legitimacy of the amendments themselves.
“I don’t know whether these amendments are good or bad,” Pesce said. “I haven’t read through them, I’m gonna be honest.”
Tucek, however, said he believed the questions on the ballot were poorly phrased.
“There are differences between [Elections Board members] summarizing [the amendments] and what the actual amendments are,” Tucek said. “The student body has a right to read that for themselves.”
In his closing statements, Tucek reiterated his earlier points and added that the question of whether or not the results of the referendum would change are immaterial to the question of a legitimate democratic process.
“People might not change their vote, but they are entitled to the opportunity to do so,” he said.
Pesce’s closing statements also recapped his earlier statements, stating that the full text of the amendments were available if students wanted to see them. He urged the council to evaluate the overwhelming vote in favor of the amendments over the violation to the elections code.
Crowe concluded the hearing, stating that the Constitutional Council would take the statements and evidence put forth at the meeting into consideration during its deliberations. He said a verdict would be delivered when the deliberations were complete, which he said could take up to a few days.
â€” By Rupsha Basu