SA Senate rejects bill creating review process for student referendums

Media Credit: Hadley Chittum | Hatchet Photographer

Bob Wu, the chairman of the Joint Elections Commission, said the body isn't fit to review the wording of referendums because it is comprised of five unelected officials.

The Student Association Senate rejected a bill Wednesday that would have created a review process for referendums appearing on the student election ballot.

The bill, which failed by a 3-26 vote with three abstentions, would have required referendum submissions to have a clear “yes” or “no” answer. The bill also mandated that after a referendum is submitted by the student body, the Joint Elections Commission, the body that oversees SA elections, would review the language of the submission to ensure it had “objective wording,” is feasible and adhered to GW policies.

Sen. Amanda Herring, GSEHD-G, said she sponsored the bill because the wording of a referendum can influence how students vote and she said students should be basing their decision only on the issue at hand. Herring said skewed referendums could put the SA in an especially difficult position because it’s bound by its governing documents to advocate for the results of a referendum.

“There needs to be a body that is saying, ‘yes, this is great go ahead and collect your signatures, looks good’ before we are held accountable to this vote,” Herring said.

But the bill was met with swift resistance from both senators and Bob Wu, the chairman of the JEC.

Wu said the JEC was not consulted as the bill was written and that the committee opposed it because it should not be the role of an unelected body to review language supported by 10 percent of the student body, which is the number of students required to sign a referendum petition in order to put it on the election ballot.

“Who are we to decide as a JEC – why should we, who are five, about to be seven, completely unelected officials – to say that we should say no to the student body?” Wu said.

Referendums can also be placed on the ballot by a vote through either the SA Senate, Program Board executive Board or Class Council executive board. Most referendums in recent years, including votes on major topics like fossil fuel divestment and a student Metro pass, have come through the SA Senate.

Wu added that if the bill were to be passed, the JEC would be forced to define objectivity and be objective – something it doesn’t currently do unless handling an infraction because its other responsibilities are largely procedural. He said denying a referendum because it wasn’t objective or wasn’t feasible would only give the JEC a bad reputation.

“We try to be as impartial as possible,” Wu said. “We will put what we put on, what you ask us and what the 2,600 people say – we’ll put that on the ballot as is. We trust the wisdom of our students.”

Sen. Andrew Lama, ESIA-U, said that because SA presidents usually garner fewer votes than the number of signatures required to submit a student-led referendum, senators should not impose additional barriers on students looking to be involved in student government.

“I trust that students who are participating in self government so directly to be responsible and understand what they’re signing,” he said.

The senate also passed a bill updating legislation the body had passed in December reforming the way SA elections are conducted. The bill clarified portions of the SA bylaws pertaining to election violations and corrected rule numbers that didn’t properly line up with associated penalties.

Sarah Roach contributed reporting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.