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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Vote ‘no’ on constitutional amendment

By Thresher Editorial Board     2/20/24 9:38pm

On your 2024 Student Association ballot, you’ll see something in addition to the standard races for executive positions: a constitutional amendment. We urge you to vote “no.”

The new constitution was originally approved by the Senate in April 2023 on a 21-1 tally. However, only about 10 percent of undergraduates voted in the corresponding special election, less than the 20% necessary for ratification. Former SA president Solomon Ni reintroduced the proposed constitution earlier this year, and now students have another chance to vote.

Though there are beneficial changes, some amendments are so worrying that we must oppose the new constitution. Our primary concern is the removal of a series of longstanding safeguards against low turnout, thin majorities and secrecy.

Article IX of the new constitution stipulates that a simple majority may pass a constitutional amendment with no required minimum voter participation. The current constitution needs two-thirds approval with at least 20% turnout, which protects the student body from constitutional changes that do not garner broad awareness, participation and satisfaction. Some may argue that low turnout plagues Student Association elections, that the 20% participation requirement essentially blocks any constitutional amendments. However, it is the SA’s job to make students care — and they used to be rather successful, with more than half the student body voting in the 2018 SA election. 

We fear that one day, the SA will quietly push a constitutional amendment special election when students are not paying attention, making drastic and dangerous changes to the elected student body that manages $400,000 of our money. Does it sound like we’re catastrophizing? Maybe, but that’s exactly why these protections exist.

Another proposed change is the threshold for resolutions to pass the Senate. Currently, two-thirds of voting senators and college presidents must approve. The new constitution decreases the cutoff to half. Lots of Senate votes are unanimous or near-unanimous, so the two-thirds requirement is not difficult to meet. In a Student Association where many undergraduates are unaware of week-to-week resolutions, we believe that a slightly higher threshold would protect less informed students.

Finally, Article III, Section 3 of the new constitution removes the stated requirement that all Senate votes be conducted by roll call, which records each representative’s vote for their constituents to review. The reason for this removal is not entirely clear. If the goal was to allow voice votes, which are especially quick for unanimous decisions, then we urge the Senate to explicitly permit voice votes instead of loosening the constitution’s language. We fear that this removal could lead to secret ballots, which run antithetical to representative democracy.

To be clear, this proposed constitution improves the existing document in many areas. For one, it is much easier to read and navigate; additionally, it brings solid procedures for filling vacancies and approving contracts.

Arguably the most beneficial series of changes is to the Blanket Tax. There are seven voting members on the Blanket Tax Committee, which dispenses some $400,000 of student tuition money annually. Currently, three are students appointed by the treasurer with no requirement that they hold elected office; in the new constitution, these three members would need to be senators. This change decreases the risk of a treasurer appointing three unqualified friends to form a majority bloc on the Blanket Tax Committee.

Even more crucial is the change to the Blanket Tax allocation review. The Senate will take a more involved role in approving the dispersion of student funds to the Blanket Tax Organizations. It’s vital that our elected representatives are hands on when managing our money.

We fought for one last clause in the refined Blanket Tax system. The Thresher reports — sometimes critically — on the Student Association and Senate. Leaving our entire funding up to that body raises a conflict of interest, where we might temper our coverage out of fear of losing our funding. The new constitution would implement a minimum stipend for the Thresher to protect our editorial independence from the Senate we cover.

It is with difficulty that we oppose this new constitution. The changes to the Blanket Tax system are strong and needed, and the document overall is far more user friendly and accessible. However, we cannot overlook the removal of protections against low engagement and shadowy, small majorities. We urge the Senate to pass a new constitution that improves the Blanket Tax system while continuing to safeguard a representative Student Association.

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Prayag Gordy, Riya Misra, Nayeli Shad, Brandon Chen, Sammy Baek, Sarah Knowlton, Hadley Medlock and Pavithr Goli. 

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