Monday, July 13, 2020
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Vote Yes On The New ASUCI Constitution

Over the course of eight hours on Feb. 22, the ASUCI Constitutional Convention met to deliberate a new form of government. Almost all attendees to this convention —  whether it be representatives from the office of the President, External Vice President, or Senate — reflected and built upon a common theme: a government for the students. In my opinion, the transcript of the delegate’s comments — which only show three hours of the convention — reflect that the current ASUCI Constitution, through numerous bureaucratic functions, internal committees, and red tape, has prevented much at all from being done — good or bad. Through our many hours of discussion, I believe that we have succeeded in rectifying these flaws and expanded the utility of the constitution.

Delegates of the convention recalled that the Associated Students Fee will increase by $5 per year for the next two years, leading to an increase from $33 per quarter to $43 per quarter. Within two years, ASUCI will have an additional $600,000, on top of their current $1.65 million dollar budget. Many delegates understood that student governments and Registered Campus Organizations (RCO) were becoming increasingly important and effective at directly serving students. After hours of debate ranging from the definition of a RCO to allotment of funding, the Convention referred the distribution to the Senate as a guideline: one-third of ASUCI’s operating budget should be appropriated to RCOs, with 60% to school-based RCOs and 40% for campus-wide RCOs.

Photo provided by Bryce Lindsey/Courtesy. 

While these discussions were not unanimous, many of the debates focused on implementation — rather than principled objection — to the provision. For example, the External Vice President brought up concerns regarding reappropriating unused funds. Others further argued that different schools had different needs, and thus the proportions should be adjusted. ASUCI Humanities Senator Amanda Clark, however, reiterated the purpose of a proportional and constant distribution of funds. 

“I think this is really the best way to split it up because we can’t really ensure that normally happens, we don’t have a bureaucracy to go and investigate all these different areas and see which is better than the other and make that judgment call so I think, just to allocate the money based on population is going to be straightforward,” Clark said. “And … [RCOs] also have other avenues of getting funds.”

ASUCI will distribute campus-wide funds through the Student Programming Funding Board as it currently does. This will lead to less competition for funds, as there will be various funding avenues for clubs. If you have any questions about how clubs get access to these funds, feel free to email me.

As of now, I believe that ASUCI has no advocacy agenda, no hierarchy, and no leadership. While one could blame the President in part for this, many delegates instead understood that ASUCI’s clunky system of executive government made implementing policy almost impossible. Worse, there was a problematic distinction between powers and duties in the constitution; executives often had overlapping jurisdictions, such as the External Vice President being required to do on campus student voter registration when such power is normally delegated to the Internal Vice President. This resulted in individuals being unsure on what their duties were.

The changes in jurisdiction clauses in the new constitution differ from those of the current constitution. The changes in clauses explicitly list the general classifications of jurisdiction for each ASUCI office. For example, in the new constitution, the Internal Vice President holds jurisdiction over all on-campus affairs, and the External Vice President holds jurisdiction over all off-campus affairs. Executive positions were consolidated to allow the President and other officials to more effectively make decisions without over a week or more of delay. 

The new constitution is designed to minimize bureaucratic restrictions to advocate for students. While the current constitution could require weeks of deliberation in Joint Committees — which are composed of members of the different branches of ASUCI to produce legislation — the new constitution allows specific bodies to communicate and act without formalized proceedings. The Senate maintains the power to set stances in both renditions of the constitution, however those stances can now be effectively implemented by the Executive branch without piecemeal legislation that would require additional weeks of legislation. 

Constitutional delegates inserted minor, but apparently controversial, changes to increase efficiency in perhaps one of the least understood amendments: recall (Art. XI, sec. 4). Furious redditors and newspaper writers, in a strawman argument, have declared that such a provision was designed to be “voter manipulation.” This point can be easily rebutted by pointing out that the number of votes needed for a recall is lower than the number needed to be elected — thus allowing a small and aggressive minority to infinitely run elections until voter turnout is small enough to allow their candidate to win. In the current constitution, Art. 12, sec. 4 allowed At-Large Senators to be recalled by a total of 10% of voters at the last prior election. Thus, if a candidate was elected with 310 votes at the last election, and a total of 2,100 votes were cast, they could be recalled with only 210 votes. As a result,  a minority candidate that received less votes than necessary to meet plurality could run a new election, gambling on low voter turnout to win the day.

As I have previously said, “[the new recall system makes sense] because if 200 people vote for me, and 100 people vote for Kimo [Gandall], and they’re mad that I won, those 100 people is all it takes to recall me.” 

But even then, this debate ignores the built in mechanism to rebalance democracy: moving elections to winter quarter. Indeed this problem was recognized by many delegates such as Kimo Gandall, the ASUCI Senate Parliamentarian and Judicial Board Associate Justice.

“So I think that the objection to that is that it is supposed to be harder to recall you than the initial number of votes cast to elect you because recall is only supposed to be… really used if the process has totally failed,”Gandall said. “There’s a rampant abuse of power that the entire student body is feeling.”

In clarifying his comments, Gandall reiterated the proposal made by the External Vice President for moving elections to the winter quarter.

“[If you meet the criteria for abuse] you should just be either impeached or should have an election, and the elections are in winter anyway… recall is not necessarily supposed to be used for policy difference,” Gandall said. “[It is supposed] to be used for broad abuses of power onto the general student population that really suffice as a public reaction, because if it’s an individual, (A) beat them in election or (B) impeach them.”

Gandall finally argued that the status quo recall can be harmful, echoing that if you have been recalled, you cannot run for office again.

This amendment functions to rectify abuses of direct democracy, rather than destroy such a system. Although the purpose of recalling is not specified in the ASUCI Constitution (old or new), I believe that the recall mechanism should be used as a check on an abusive minority, not a method of obstruction to a properly elected majority. 

The constitutional convention of ASUCI understood that the current structure creates bureaucratic barriers that are nearly impossible to traverse. The new constitution further understands a more important point — student government exists to benefit student life on campus, not to become an autonomous clique. 

For too long, student government funds have been used for private “retreats” and executive vacations — such as the nearly $10,000 appropriated to Executive “retreats” in the 2019-2020 year. For too long, student government resources have been stuck behind layers of bureaucratic red tape. For too long, the students have been blindsided by a government unable to respond. 

A vote against the new constitution is more than a vote against efficiency — it is a vote against democratic rule. In contrast to what opponents may say, the new constitution does good by students by not only structurally realigning elections, but actually requiring a true, representative voice for students in government.

Bryce Lindsey is one of the 2019-2020 ASUCI Engineering Senators, he wrote the new ASUCI Constitution, as well as the Constitutional Reform Act. He can be reached at bwlindse@uci.edu