In March, undergraduates will vote not only for representatives, but also for constitutional changes to student government. If passed, changes will stand for the next five years.
The bylaw changes — proposed by Undergraduate Student Government’s Constitution and Bylaw Review Commission and approved for the ballot during Wednesday night’s General Assembly meeting — include a reduction in the campaign-finance cap, a lowering of petition signatures required to run for president or vice president, and the removal of the vice president from the general assembly, the organization’s legislative body.
The CBRC had specific goals in mind when drafting the proposed changes.
“We wanted USG to be more accessible to people, and we also wanted the bylaws to be a little bit more clear on some of the things that candidates need to do in order to be on the ballot,” said Jenna Gravalis, chair of the CBRC and a fourth-year in political science.
“The issue is USG is supposed to represent all students so it shouldn’t be about who can raise the most money and buy the most promotional items to give out to students.”—Jenna Gravalis, chair of the USG Constitution Bylaw Review Commission.
The campaign-finance change would considerably help accessibility, she said.
Candidates for USG often form “slates,” meaning they campaign together as one entity. A slate might consist of a presidential, vice presidential and multiple senatorial candidates, and is currently allowed to spend up to $4,000 on campaigning. If the proposed changes pass, the amended constitution would cut this limit to $2,000 beginning with the 2018 election, ideally allowing candidates with less capital a better opportunity to compete.
“The issue is USG is supposed to represent all students so it shouldn’t be about who can raise the most money and buy the most promotional items to give out to students,” Gravalis said.
She said the lower limit also would allow for more transparency.
“Every campaign, once campaigning starts, they must publish a (campaign value report), so you know this is just making it more clear since it’s $2,000 and it’s a lot easier for people to see all of our spending,” Gravalis said.
The proposed reduction in the number of required petition signatures, from 750 to 500, for presidential and vice presidential candidates, had a similar motivation.
“I feel like it enables outside students to come into our selection process,” said Michael Frank, a third-year in political science and economics who also sits on the CBRC. “If you think about it, a member of (Greek Life) would have an ease of access to that number of people. Usually when one person in Greek Life runs, they’re able to hit up the other houses and get signatures from them, and then their requirement is completed. Whereas someone who may be involved in a smaller organization that maybe has 80 people … it becomes a lot harder for them to get involved like we would want them to.”
The largest organizational change to USG bylaws would be the replacement of the vice president with a speaker in the general assembly, a position that was eliminated in the last bylaw revision five years ago. The change, according to CBRC members, would allow the general assembly greater autonomy.
“We thought that the separation of those two powers (executive and legislative) would be important, so that way the GA members aren’t influenced negatively by the presence of the VP,” Frank said.
While neither Frank nor Gravalis said they thought current USG Vice President Danielle DiScala overstepped her bounds, Frank said the CBRC were considering general-assembly structure in the long-term.
“It’s more in order to protect the future of USG because we can’t always ensure that the next vice president is going to be exactly like (DiScala) was,” he said.
USG senators would elect the speaker if the new constitution is enacted.
The USG election, held March 6 to 8, will be an opportunity for students to put a stamp on student government that will last long after they graduate. The proposed constitutional changes, if enacted, will guide USG for five years.
Voting on the constitutional referendum is “one of the ways (students) can get more involved in USG without actually joining the organization,” Gravalis said. “The students essentially dictate how our organization is run.”