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New ASUCI Constitution Adjusts Representation, Voting Procedures

Pending final approval by Chancellor Howard Gillman, ASUCI will implement their new Constitution on July 1. If adopted, the Constitution will heavily diminish the responsibilities of ASUCI Executive Cabinet, while granting the Legislative Council more power to pass amendments and appointments internally. Additionally, the Constitution will adjust the Legislative Council representation of certain schools, and add new positions to promote ASUCI transparency and accountability.

The Constitution, which was approved by 93.46 percent of student voters during last month’s spring election, expanded from 16 to 28 pages and attempts to alleviate disputes caused by contradictions in the previous Constitution.

“Parts of the [current] Constitution are vague and…can contradict, amounting in confusion,” said Council Speaker Pro-Tempore Tin Hong. “The changes were generally made to consolidate and streamline ASUCI operations.”

However, the adoption of the Constitution provoked dissent between ASUCI’s current members over the amount of power to be transferred to Legislative Council.

“The Constitution proposes monumental structural changes with no transition plan, and I have voiced major concerns about it since winter quarter,” said current ASUCI President Parshan Khosravi. “It takes a large margin of power from the Executive Branch — power which this branch has wielded well in the past. I am not sure next year’s Senate can handle the amount of power they are being given so abruptly.”

The updated Constitution implements a new system of representation within the Legislative Council, allowing more representation for schools with high enrollment, such as Social Sciences and Biological Sciences, and less representation for schools with lower enrollment, including Arts and Humanities. Each school enrolling less than 10 percent of the undergraduate student body will have one Senator, schools with 10 to 15 percent of the student body will have two Senators, schools with 15 to 20 percent of the student body will have three Senators, and schools with over 20 percent of undergraduate student enrollment will have four Senators. Previously, schools were capped at three representatives.

Three new “Special Interest Senators” will also be established: one International Student Senator, one Transfer Student Senator, and one First-Year Senator to represent the interests of their respective groups.

In the case of vacant Senate seats, according to the new Constitution, the Senate may either call a special election to fill the seat, or internally “appoint a student who meets the relevant qualifications to fill the vacancy,” bypassing an election.

Current ASUCI Humanities Representative Miguel Olvera says that the new Constitution’s provision to fill vacancies is a result of ASUCI’s attendance problems. According to President Khosravi, over the past quarter alone, Legislative Council has failed to meet quorum during five meetings.

“[Not allowing appointments in the past] has negatively affected representation by school, as often Councilmembers drop or are unable to make the meetings for whatever reason, leaving a school without a representative,” said Olvera.

In another bid to increase regular attendance, once the new Constitution is implemented, ASUCI Legislative Council must only meet once weekly during the academic year. According to past precedent, Senate has met twice weekly.

In addition to changes within Senate, the new Constitution also implements procedural changes, including lowering the number of student voters needed to consider amendments, referenda and recalls.

The new Constitution stipulates that a Constitutional amendment can be considered after only five percent of undergraduates have voted on it – half as many as the previously-required  10 percent voter turnout.

Furthermore, the new constitution includes an “Urgency Amendment Process” in which amendments can be passed internally within ASUCI, without any undergraduate vote, in the case of constitutional provisions which are “substantially hindering the proper functioning of ASUCI.”

Legislation will also become easier to repeal as a result of the updates. Presently, if undergraduates campaign to repeal a legislation, they have 15 days to collect a petition signed by five percent of the student body. Under the new constitution, undergraduates have five instructional weeks to present a petition signed by only two percent of the student body.

According to Councilmember Olvera, the simplification of recall procedure is “a good thing.” However, he remains skeptical of other drops in quorum stipulated by the new constitution.

“The voter turnout [required] for referendums and initiatives has dropped from 25 percent to 20 percent,” he said. “This makes it easier to pass new fees on to students, which are often admin-initiated.”

President Khosravi also opposed this drop in quorum, noting that making it easier to pass referenda could result in “dozens of needless fees piling up year after year.”

Council Speaker Pro-Tempore Hong, however,  says that the simplified voting procedures will increase undergraduate input in student government.

“Students have the opportunity to make a much greater contribution to ASUCI, through Direct Democracy initiatives,” said Hong. “And there are additional responsibilities for ensuring public access, so transparency and representation for students is much greater.”

The new constitution outlines new guidelines for how ASUCI’s collected student fees can be used, including for financing campaigns at the discretion of student government.

According to the Constitution, “If ASUCI income reaches a level to make it feasible, funding should be set aside in the annual budget for candidates for ASUCI elected office, provided that each candidate must be given the same amount of money.”

In an attempt to communicate the new Constitutional changes to UCI’s student body, several new internal positions will be created to foster transparency and accountability within ASUCI. These positions will take on responsibilites previously allocated to the Executive Cabinet.  

The Student Advocate General will be tasked with “imposing…more training [and] better record management” on ASUCI offices, and addressing student complaints regarding ASUCI functioning.

The Internal Deputy Student Advocate General will mediate disputes within ASUCI in a non-partisan manner and provide an “anonymous channel” for complaints of misused student funds.

Finally, the Chief Accountability Officer will maintain an active file of ASUCI officers’ absences and failures to complete duties, and “investigate and report malfeasance to Student Advocate General.”

President Khosravi notes that aside from the easier guidelines to pass and recall legislation, the new Constitution grants Senate the power to impeach members of Executive Branch and Judicial Branch without holding a public election. Presently, Executive impeachments can be secured with an eight percent undergraduate vote. The new Constitution stipulates that a two-thirds vote of Senate is sufficient to impeach any Executive Cabinet Member, or all seven Judicial Board members simultaneously.

“That sets a very dangerous precedent,” said Khosravi. “It could seriously impact the ability of ASUCI to function next year, and well into the future.”