SA Senate votes to place two referenda on ballot for upcoming election

Media Credit: Sophia Young | Assistant Photo Editor

SA Sen. Sebastian Weinmann, Law-G and the sponsor of the bill to add procedures to remove the SA president, said the referendum aligns the current SA constitution with the newly restructured SA bylaws.

Updated: March 25, 2021 at 1:49 p.m.

The Student Association Senate voted to place two referenda on the SA election ballot, including a measure to establish more operations to remove the sitting SA president if the person is found to be “unable” to execute the duties of their position.

The Constitutional Reform and Amendment Referendum of 2021, if approved by the student body, would allow for the president to leave their position either voluntarily or by executive cabinet members’ unanimous vote. Senators also approved a referendum that will ask students to vote on creating an urban studies minor in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

SA Sen. Sebastian Weinmann, Law-G and the sponsor of the bill to add procedures to remove the SA president, said the referendum aligns the current SA constitution with the newly restructured SA bylaws.

He said the referendum would create two processes that allow for the SA president to either be removed or voluntarily leave. The first route would enable members of the executive cabinet to remove the president if they unanimously agree that the president is “temporarily or permanently unable” to perform their responsibilities, while the second process would allow for the president to leave on their on volition, he said.

A one-third vote of the senate is currently required to begin impeachment proceedings against an SA executive official. The executive member can then be removed from office following a Student Court hearing and a two-thirds vote by the senate, according to the SA bylaws.

The referendum comes on the heels of former SA President Howard Brookins’ resignation in January. The senate initiated impeachment proceedings against Brookins amid allegations of workplace mismanagement and claims of sexual misconduct were brought forward against him, citing four SA bylaw and constitution violations.

Senators also voted to reorganize and update language and procedures in the SA’s bylaws through the SA Modernization Act, which will take effect May 1. Some of the major changes include removing redundant, incorrect or “non-pertinent” references and allowing senators to attend meetings virtually even if students return to campus this fall.

SA Sen. Thomas Falcigno, CPS-G and the sponsor of the bill, said he and members of the constitutional transition task force – a body created to align the SA’s updated constitution with its bylaws – wrote the legislation.

Senators reviewed the updated language at the last SA meeting, which also includes increasing the number of committees in the senate from four to nine, adding graduate and undergraduate education policy committees, graduate and undergraduate student life committees, a financial services and allocations committee, a physical facilities and urban affairs committee and a permanent subcommittee on sustainability.

“We completely overhauled where things are in the bylaws so that they make sense in terms of order,” Falcigno said. “We also added definitions so that things mentioned in the bylaws are clearly defined.”

Senators also approved a referendum that will ask students to vote on the possible creation of an urban studies minor program in CCAS. SA Sen. Gabriel Young, CCAS-U and the sponsor of the legislation, said he was inspired to push for the minor by both the wealth disparity of his hometown, San Jose, California, and his work as an intern in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office focusing on housing and homelessness policy.

“D.C. is a unique city, and there is no better time to have this conversation than now, as the House [of Representatives] Oversight Committee is looking to make D.C. our 51st state,” Young said.

The program would offer an “interdisciplinary platform” for students to study urban life, “processes” and design in relation to GW. Several departments like history and American studies include courses in “city-related” topics but no currently existing courses combine the topics with city surroundings, according to the legislation.

Senators also rejected a bill to place a referendum on the ballot that could have put in place a run-off system for electing executive officers and single-seat constituency senators. SA elections for president and vice president are currently conducted through ranked-choice voting, which does not include the possibility of a runoff occurring.

SA Sen. Patrick Burland, U-at-Large and the sponsor of the bill, said ranked-choice voting is a more “complex, tactical and political” system.

He said ranked-choice voting is “less majoritarian and decisive” than a simple majority vote because ranked choice does not prevent a candidate from creating a “spoiler effect” on another candidate. He said the referendum would not prohibit ranked-choice voting but would encourage the body to use a majority vote “wherever possible” for senate elections.

“By putting this referendum on the ballot, we give the people the direct ability to influence the constitution that governs their Student Association and resolve this question for all future elections,” he said.

Burland argued the referendum, if approved, would allow students to have the final say about how they vote for their representatives.

Joint Elections Commission Chairperson Chloe Wagner fielded senators questions about the impacts of the possible referendum on elections, stating there is a significant decrease in voter participation for runoff elections and a runoff election would lengthen the election process.

The bill received 24 votes in favor and seven opposed, but it failed because it needed to receive 2/3 support of the 44-person senate instead of just the 31 senators present.

The senate also voted to allocate $20,000 of the SA executive branch budget to the Office of Advocacy and Support’s survivor’s fund, which aids survivors of sexual assault.

This post was updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that a referendum, if approved, would allow cabinet members to remove the SA president through two processes. Cabinet members can remove the president through one process, and the other process would allow for the president to voluntarily leave. We regret this error.

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