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UCourt final case rules SA must revert to prior constitution

SA acted improperly when representing constitutional changes on February's election ballot, UCourt found

By James Cancelarich     5/19/24 9:09pm

The University Court has ruled that the Student Association must revert to the March 6, 2023 constitution after the proposed constitution amendment was found to have been misrepresented on this year’s ballot, University Court chair Beck Hall announced on April 24.

After a complaint was filed Feb. 22 alleging the election ballot inaccurately represented the proposed changes, UCourt launched a formal investigation, convening a preliminary review March 26 — after which it ruled the SA had to temporarily revert to their old constitution until the investigation concluded — and a formal hearing April 21.

A representative from the SA did not appear at the hearing to conduct oral testimony, nor was a written statement submitted for the April 21 formal hearing. Either testimonies would have been considered in the case as evidence, Hall said.

“I could not make the hearing as I had [COVID-19], but we respect the UCourt’s decision and will abide by it,” SA President Jae Kim wrote in a message to the Thresher. 

In the abstract of the case, UCourt concluded that the amendment was misrepresented, saying it was “unreasonable” to expect students to read through the entire linked document containing the amendment. The UCourt recommended that representation of changes should be “impartial and exhaustive.”

“Without an exhaustive and impartial description, students may not understand what voting ‘yes’ on constitutional amendments will change,” the abstract, submitted by Hall, says. “Providing a partial list, as done in this case, could be even more damaging. Students may think they know what they are voting for but lack the true knowledge of what a ‘yes’ vote endorses.”

The proposed constitutional amendment introduced reforms to the Blanket Tax committee, allocated $14.50 of each student’s Blanket Tax funds to the Thresher and decreased a resolution’s approval threshold from two-thirds to a simple majority

The complaint, submitted by a then-unnamed student, alleged that the summary of the changes written on the ballot was “not an accurate representation” of the changes. One of the changes not represented in the official summary was the removal of a 20% voter turnout requirement and a two-thirds majority to pass constitutional amendments.

“I submitted the complaint because I felt that the SA’s actions were underhanded and needed to be stopped,” the complainant, Simon Yellen, a junior at Duncan College, later wrote in an email to the Thresher.

Heather-Reneé Gooch, associate director for student engagement, said that she felt the ballot was accurate, but was open to student feedback.

“I don’t think that it was a misrepresentation, because I don’t think that there is any malice behind it. I feel it's just a matter of interpretation,” Gooch said. “We’re definitely open to hearing that opinion and making changes, because we do want this to be accessible to students.”

The short-lived passage of the new constitution also saw the addition of the Rice Women’s Resource Center and Civic Duty Rice as recipients of Blanket Tax financing  — their current funding status is now unclear. Thomas Ngo, SA Treasurer, said that he was unsure of what changes, if any, will happen.

“I do not believe the court decided on the Rice Women's Center or Civic Duty Rice's Blanket Tax status one way or another,” Hall wrote in an email to the Thresher. “The court has only ruled that the proposed constitutional amendments in the Feb. 21 election were not represented properly on the ballot. Therefore, the Court ordered the SA to follow the previous constitution. When looking at the amended constitution, the one the court ordered the SA to not follow, there is no mention of Rice Women's Center or Civic Duty Rice or their Blanket Tax status.”

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