ASOC constitutional amendments pass, drawing student concerns about election process and newly-formed executive committee

Johnson Hall at Occidental College. Sarah Hofmann/The Occidental

The April 24–27 Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) election passed newly proposed ASOC constitutional amendments 421–45, which introduce an ASOC executive committee, among other changes, and go into effect following the 2020–2021 school year. Students elected Kitty Lu (junior), former vice president of financial affairs, as ASOC president. According to Alex Lin* (sophomore), ASOC elections chair, 494 students voted in the election. Student concerns arose throughout and following the election regarding the announcement of the constitutional amendments an hour before voting opened, the inclusion of a “too long; didn’t read” (TL;DR) summary on the amendments ballot encouraging students to “vote YES!” and multiple uncontested positions.

Constitutional amendments

Kyler Parris (sophomore), who was reelected vice president of policies, said the now-passed constitutional amendments aim to improve communication and promote collaboration on long-term goals between all ASOC branches. Each branch will send representatives to collectively discuss issues through the formation of a new executive committee, according to Parris.

“Even though we act like there’s four equal branches of ASOC, I think that the truth to anyone that’s involved is that they are not equal: that Senate holds basically all institutional power, including all budget decisions,” Parris said.

Wafa Abedin (junior), former vice president of internal affairs, said there are many details about the executive committee that need to be clarified, including a lack of term limits for the president and finance director positions on the executive committee. Lu said as president, she will add term limits and that the implementation process will occur through another constitutional amendment in the following school year.

“Within the ASOC constitution, there [are] already all branch restrictions on how impeachment and officer removal works,” Lu said. “So it’s not that there’s no way at all for us to remove someone if they are not performing their duties.”

The guidelines for officer removal are in Article 6, Section 3 of the ASOC constitution.

As the constitutional amendments will not take effect until after Lu’s term as ASOC president is over, she said the following school year will be an opportunity to reevaluate the role of Senate within ASOC. Many of Senate’s duties will now shift to the executive committee — allowing for more shared governance, according to Lu.

“I think the biggest point is that this year will not be, ‘Hey, this is happening now. You just voted for it and now it’s happening,’” Lu said. “It is that, ‘Okay, this is what the student body agrees with doing. This is how we believe we should move forward so that this plan can be implemented with the most efficiency and with better understanding.’”

Constitutional amendments ballot timeline

Parris said the constitutional commission started meeting in November 2019. The deaths of Ilah Richardson (first year) and Jaden Burris (sophomore) made it difficult for ASOC to regularly meet about the constitutional amendments in February, Parris said, and transitioning to remote learning made active participation in the amendment process more challenging. He said the timeline for voting was shortened due to the requirement that voting must happen while classes are still in session.

Article 6, Section 1 of the ASOC constitution requires that spring Senate and Honor Board elections take place at least two weeks before the final day of classes.

“By the time we had this passed through by ASOC officers, there just was not really time for large-scale outreach,” Parris said. “I wish that we could have done more of that, and I know for a fact — because I’m VP [of] policies — that we will make that a goal of this upcoming process.”

Parris said he thought it was important for students to vote on the amendments now in order to honor the work the constitutional commission put in over the past six months.

Abedin said she agreed with the spirit of the constitutional amendments and the effort to move toward structural changes but disagreed with the process prior to the announcement of the amendments, citing a lack of meeting notes. As of May 7, the last publicized Senate meeting minutes are from Nov. 11, 2019.

Lu said she understood the concerns raised regarding the writing and passage of the constitutional amendments and that she had not realized that the meeting notes were not regularly updated. She is trying to reach out to students and gather feedback regarding the constitutional amendments, as well as discuss concerns with ASOC officers.

“We’re students first. It’s not like we have all the answers to everything and so it is always a learning process,” Lu said. “I’m always open to feedback from students about how or what is happening, and how things should be run.”

TL;DR on the ballot

When voting opened April 24, the constitutional amendments ballot measure included a TL;DR summary stating that the amendments would make student government more effective and students should vote yes. It was removed from the ballot April 26.

Abedin said students can express support for amendments in emails and social media posts, but she opposed the inclusion of the TL;DR on the ballot itself. Abedin said that although removing the TL;DR was the right decision, it was concerning that it was removed in the midst of voting.

“[Parris] had indicated that he was the one that emailed and reached out to have [the ballot] changed,” Abedin said. “I don’t think that someone who’s clearly not impartial, someone who’s also running in the race, should have the ability to amend a ballot in the middle of a referendum.”

According to Parris, the TL;DR was not meant to be included on the ballot and its inclusion was a result of miscommunication over emails. Parris said this incident highlighted the need for a better and more neutral ballot writing process.

Abedin said she believed that the TL;DR had a significant impact on the outcome of the vote. Parris said he did not believe the TL;DR affected the voting results.

Election timing

Sandy Nguyen (junior), former ASOC elections chair, announced Feb. 20 that the Spring 2020 ASOC elections were postponed until further notice, which former ASOC President Nina Srdić Hadži-Nešić (junior) said was due to the passing of Richardson and Burris. Lin opened the window for potential candidates to submit petitions April 11 with an original deadline of April 18. He later extended the petition deadline to April 22 and said it was because there were not enough candidates to fill all positions and many positions were uncontested.

According to Lin, there were two groups of candidates: those who submitted petitions by the original deadline, and a second group that submitted by the extension deadline. Lin said campaigning might have been more challenging for the second group of candidates because they had less time to campaign than the first group.

Lu said she felt as though she had enough time to campaign but was also aware that she had been preparing for the candidacy longer than others.

The Spring 2020 voting window (April 24–27) took place eight days later than Spring 2018 (April 16–20) and seven days later than Spring 2019 (April 17–19). Abedin said she considers the public elections process to begin with the appointment of an elections chair and believes it should have begun earlier to avoid students being overwhelmed by finals. In Spring 2019, Abedin, as vice president of internal affairs, announced the elections chair position March 26, 2019, and the last day of classes was April 30, 2019.

This semester, there was no email announcement to apply for the elections chair position, and according to Srdić Hadži-Nešić, Lin was appointed election chair April 10. The candidate petition window opened April 11 and the last day of classes was April 28.

“I think that even though COVID-19 did present a lot of challenges, they could have had more foresight to plan for the election even earlier and that should have been to accommodate for these difficulties,” Abedin said. “I think that’s a complicated question.”

Uncontested positions

All positions except for junior and senior class senators were uncontested.

Abedin said that while the uncontested positions were both an ASOC and student body issue, the circumstances of COVID-19 further complicated the situation. She said ASOC needs to better demonstrate to the student body that student government positions have an impact, as students do not see ASOC — and Senate in particular — as an effective way to create change.

“I think that uncontested positions also engender a lack of accountability because people don’t fear losing an election because their race might not go contested in the future,” Abedin said.

Spring 2019’s ASOC election had multiple uncontested positions as well.

Lu said she finds that individually reaching out to students to suggest running for or filling positions, although a labor-intensive process, can help promote student engagement. She said she would like to bring in new voices and encourages students who would not normally consider running for an ASOC position to run. Those who are discouraged by uncontested ASOC positions should run, Lu said, because it shows that they care.

“Maybe you don’t win, but your candidacy forces someone else to think a little bit more about why they’re running,” Lu said.

*Lin is a staff writer at The Occidental

Charlie Finnerty contributed reporting for this article.

This article was revised May 9 at 9:40 p.m. to clarify the dates of the Spring 2018 and 2019 elections.