After an issue was erased from the Undergraduate Student Government election ballot this week, some students are challenging the reason it was removed.
The issue, which was set to be called “Issue 1” and was brought forth by a petition from the organization OSU Divest, asked whether student voters thought Ohio State should divest — or cut financial ties — from companies “complicit in Israeli human rights violations and the occupation of the Palestinian Territories,” according to the OSU Divest website.
According to USG’s Judicial Panel, for a petition to be valid, it must have the name of the circulator on every page. The petition from OSU Divest failed to have the name on all the pages, the panel said, so the pages without the name were thrown out.
“The petitioned initiative will not appear on the ballot, seeing as the invalidity of the pages submitted does not leave a sufficient amount of signatures for the petition to appear on the ballot,” the panel’s decision read, adding that if the name had appeared on every page, the issue would have appeared on the ballot.
The Judicial Panel noted that it was not a direct consequence of invalid signatures, but of invalid pagination.
“Had one sheet been in question, we would have only invalidated that sheet per the language of the bylaws, and they would have appeared on the ballot. However, this was not the case, and all but a few pages bore the signature of the circulator,” said Morgan Johnson, a member of the USG Judiciary Panel who wrote the decision and a second-year in public affairs, in an emailed release.
“Unfortunately the few that did include a circulator signature did not possess enough signatures to be brought forth on the ballot,” she added.
Johnson said it’s important that USG upholds its bylaws.
“We are in a precarious place in that we have to encourage participation as well as uphold bylaws, but in order for us to encourage participation, people have to trust that the process does not contain select exemptions,” Johnson said.
“There are rules to participating, and those rules must be adhered to. When these laws are drawn forth and selectively adhered to, we must act to protect the vote.”
OSU Divest, however, argued that the language USG cited in its election bylaws doesn’t apply to petitions. The Judicial Panel disagreed, noting that other portions of those bylaws were followed correctly by the petitioners.
The organization also argued against a clerk acting as a plaintiff in the hearing, but the Judicial Panel said that argument was not substantiated because the panel is the sole body that deals with election matters.
Cruz Bonlarron Martínez, a fourth-year in geography and publicity director at the OSU Committee for Justice in Palestine, said he does not think this decision will be the end of the OSU Divest movement.
“Our campaign refuses to let this decision be the final word on our initiative,” he said in an emailed statement from OSU Divest. “The campaign to divest our endowment from companies that cause such immense harm to human life is too serious and too urgent to be dropped, simply because of one bad ruling.”
Megan Keenan, a third-year in political science and representative of USG’s Diversity Committee, filed a brief on the committee’s behalf Monday that challenged the Judicial Panel’s handling of Issue 1.
“The Diversity Committee felt the need to file a brief separate from OSU Divest’s appeal because we hope to establish a new precedent that allows us to be proactive in preventing similar injustices in the future,” she said in an emailed statement. “This type of unilateral action by the Judicial Panel — simultaneously filing, arguing and deciding the merits of a case — should be illegitimate in all future cases, not just in the present action taken against OSU Divest.”
That brief stated three main issues, including that the panel should not have presided over the case — called “Clerk v. OSU Divest” — because there was an apparent conflict of interest in that the panel’s clerk was the plaintiff.
According to the brief, the Judicial Panel “suggested answers to the plaintiff” in the course of his argument. It also permitted him “to blatantly contradict his own prior answers in a way that complemented his case.”
The brief also said the panel’s perception of a violation was influenced by its relationship with the complainant and its existing familiarity with the bylaws, rather than a “legitimate review.”
“If any violation on the part of OSU Divest occurred, it was solely because the Judicial Panel allowed OSU Divest to proceed in a way that ultimately broke the Judicial Panel’s own Constitution,” Keenan said. “This only further contributes to the conflict of interest that the Panel faced: its own interests in avoiding potential consequences for breaking rules set forth by both the Undergraduate Student Government and the Council on Student Affairs were at stake, and the Judicial Panel should not have been permitted to preside over a hearing that directly concerned its own behavior.”
The third thing the Diversity Committee’s brief stated was problematic was that the panel contradicted earlier statements it made to OSU Divest when it had allowed the group certain rights. Those rights came after the panel initially told OSU Divest it could collect signatures online, but upon finding out that wasn’t possible, the panel reduced the number of signatures the group needed and extended the deadline for submitting them, the brief said.
It also stated that the panel approved OSU Divest’s petitions before the group circulated the petitions. Then after the group submitted its finalized petitions, it took more than two weeks for the Judicial Panel to discover its “own error in allowing the petitions to circulate without requiring a circulator’s name.” That was when the panel filed its case against OSU Divest.
USG President Celia Wright, a fourth-year in public health, and Vice President Leah Lacure, a fourth-year in public affairs, published a statement addressing Issue 1, among other issues, and ultimately announced the decision to file for the impeachment of the Chief Justice of the Judicial Panel.
“Throughout this process, we have been alarmed and disturbed by the lack of efficiency and attentiveness in the Judicial Panel’s (JP) handling of the issue since its inception,” the release said, adding that Wright and Lacure were unable to act on these ideas because of a separation of powers outlined in the USG Constitution.
The release also said the USG executive branch has been in contact with several parties involved in OSU Divest, and is “committed to ensuring that the ability of students to express their voice is restored.”
Editor’s Note: This article was updated with information on the USG Diversity Committee’s brief, as well as information from a USG Executive Branch press release March 10.