ASUCI Legislative Council Rejects Referendums Over Ambiguous Meaning of “2/3rds Vote”
Longstanding precedents established in the Associated Students of UCI (ASUCI) Constitution and By-Laws were brought into question during last week’s Legislative Council meetings.
According to At-Large Representative Alvin Phan, the current ASUCI Legislative Council requested clarity from the Judicial Board on the understanding behind the “two-thirds vote” needed to pass fee initiatives last Tuesday, showing how the language in the ASUCI Constitution and By-Laws is vulnerable to inconsistent, loose interpretation.
In preparation for the upcoming spring elections, several organizations have proposed their fee initiatives — also referred to as “referendums” — to the ASUCI Legislative Council for approval to be on the spring ballot. If passed by the Council, these initiatives would then go on the spring quarter ballot during week 3, allowing students to then vote on their implementation.
On March 1, after the Council proposed and passed their first two fee initiatives, the Student Center and MyUCI fee referendums, according to Council Speaker Alvin Phan, Judicial Board advised councilmembers that in order for a fee initiative to pass, it needs two-thirds — specifically “18 councilmembers,” — of the 26 available seats on Council to vote in its favor. However, this minimum of 18 councilmembers is greater than two-thirds of the total 23 seats actually filled. This new interpretation also clashes with how the Legislative Council has understood voting in the past and how previous legislation and referendums have been approved.
“After being in ASUCI for five years and Council for almost four, there is a huge lack of clarity and a lot of ambiguity as to what the code says,” said Phan.
In the ASUCI Constitution, it is recognized that a fee initiative can be approved to be on the ballot if it receives “a formal vote of two-thirds (2/3) [from] the Legislative Council.” Furthermore, “only seats present and exercising their right to vote” at a council meeting “shall be counted when determining majority or two-thirds (2/3) votes,” according to the ASUCI By-Laws.
Thus, Legislative Council members and Judicial Board members over the years have understood that a “two-thirds vote” refers to “a two-thirds vote” only considering councilmembers present at a meeting and at the time of voting.
Published legislation voted on by the Legislative Council dating back to the academic year of at least 2012-2013 have abided by this interpretation.
Before the board clarified that 18 votes were needed to pass the initiative, the Student Center Fee Initiative passed last Tuesday by 9-1-6 (nine votes in favor, one vote not in favor, six voters abstaining). 16 councilmembers in total voted; nine “yes” votes qualified the initiative for receiving a two-thirds majority.
However, following these clarifications made by the board, the Student Center Fee Initiative was voted on again at Thursday’s Legislative Council meeting. Subsequently, the initiative did not pass by 17-2-1 (17 votes in favor; two votes not in favor; one voter abstaining) and failed after previously passing.
By this precedent, according to the strict 18-vote minimum, not even the 2013 Anteater Express “Bus Love” Fee Initiative, meant to support and expand services for Anteater Express, would have passed with its Legislative Council voting results of 7-1-2.
In addition, this further questions the integrity of how the last three fee initiatives were voted on last Thursday. Only 20 of the 23 councilmembers were present to vote during the MyUCI and the Student Center Fee Initiative deliberations. Additionally, by the time the Anteater Media Collective (AMC) Referendum was voted on, only 19 were present as a member left the Legislative Council session early.
As a result, the AMC referendum received a 16-2-8 vote, not meeting the new interpretation of a 18-vote minimum requirement. The eight abstained votes are, however, inflated because they represent “one abstaining, four absent and three vacancies,” according to the ASUCI website.
While the 2013 Bus Love Initiative did not have an 18-vote minimum (with a 26-seat maximum in 2015-2016), the maximum seating for Legislative Council at that time was in the low 20s, and it still passed with a 7-1-2 vote. This solidifies that the Legislative Council used “present” to mean “in-the-room voting members.”
The next Legislative Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 8 at 5 p.m.