From the Neighborhood | Election reform: good intentions however questionable execution

Lately, the Related College students of Stanford College (ASSU) has gone by way of one other election cycle. The scholars of Stanford elected a brand new ASSU President and Vice President and likewise voted within the Undergraduate Senate elections or within the Graduate Scholar Council elections. Though there was an allegation that one of many candidates violated the marketing campaign finance guidelines, general the elections went easily and over 4000 college students voted.

As we’re processing the outcomes of those elections and ready for the brand new legislature and executives to return in, the “lame duck” legislature has taken it upon itself to evaluate the foundations that prescribe how elections are being run. We typically encourage the legislature to revisit its bylaws every so often and contemplate how they are often improved to safe the democratic course of. As two present or former members of the Constitutional Council, we now have some issues, nonetheless, concerning the pace with which that is taking place, and the doable implications of particular implementations within the new bylaws. One instance pertains to the certification of elections.

Scholar leaders must be consultant of the democratic will of the scholar physique and incumbent leaders shouldn’t be capable of forestall, delay or take away newly elected leaders. With the considered January sixth in thoughts, we now have all just lately skilled how uncertainty about electoral processes can result in disarray and outright makes an attempt to subvert the democratic will. Sadly, the ASSU has its personal historical past with regards to certification of elections. We wish to take the reader again to the 2004 ASSU election.

That yr, the Undergraduate Senate refused to certify the outcomes of the ASSU presidential election during which the highest candidate received by greater than 300 votes. As a substitute, the Undergraduate Senate delayed the Presidential transition and known as for a particular election with none grounds within the ASSU Structure. As may be anticipated, these actions weren’t conducive to the legitimacy of the ASSU.

This set of actions led to a complete of three Constitutional Council circumstances, which resulted in rulings that made it clear that these actions had been unconstitutional. This set of circumstances put the Constitutional Council within the terrible place of getting to resolve who had been the ASSU Executives: the scholars who received the final Presidential Election or those who received the particular election. The Council dominated in favor of the winners of the particular election because the winners had already been serving as ASSU Executives for about eight months. On the identical time the Council dominated unanimously that the Senate acted unconstitutionally. 

After this sequence of rulings, the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Scholar Council amended the Joint Bylaws of the ASSU to make it clear that the Presidential election can’t be undone by the Undergraduate Senate or the Graduate Scholar Council alone, and as a substitute each of the ASSU legislative our bodies should act in live performance to invalidate ASSU elections outcomes on 4 grounds: voter fraud, voter disenfranchisement, partisan conduct by elections officers or an election performed not in accordance with the ASSU Structure.

Sadly, last-minute bylaw amendments with the intent to make clear the ASSU Presidential transition will undo these reforms by requiring the Presidential transition to solely happen after the certification of the election outcomes by the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Scholar Council. These proposals would possibly put unelected college students (similar to elections commissioners or Constitutional Council members) within the place of selecting who’re the duly elected leaders.

To make sure, this current flurry of exercise in procedural payments is a vital enterprise that ASSU ought to decide to. The ASSU legislative our bodies ought to draft new election guidelines. This proposed exercise could be very encouraging, as a result of it implies that individuals are eager about advanced election points and are working to enhance ASSU procedures which haven’t been rigorously up to date in numerous years. It’s also a good suggestion to make these modifications properly exterior of the election season.

Sadly, haste is a poor advisor with regards to crafting laws. As challenges of election outcomes earlier than the Constitutional Council have proven repeatedly prior to now many years (for instance in 2004, 2005 and just lately), elections are a breeding floor for potential unconstitutional conduct or guidelines and these new election guidelines are prone to introduce new issues. 

The proposed modifications that we’re most involved about are these relating to the transition timeline (e.g. this proposed invoice). These modifications search to sync the transition of the ASSU Govt with the legislative our bodies — a objective that’s completely nice in and of itself. Nonetheless, the proposed language will reintroduce the power for one legislative physique to indefinitely delay the ASSU Govt transition.

Moreover, we encourage the newly elected scholar leaders within the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Scholar Council to select up the mantle from the earlier legislative our bodies and work to finalize the opposite proposed procedural payments. Whereas it might be tempting to hurry by way of these modifications (who desires to debate boring election laws for a lot of weeks?), the required 2/3 majority must be an indicator that these modifications shouldn’t be rushed. You will need to create a system that’s secure and addresses doable irregularities within the course of. 

The legislative our bodies have launched a invoice amending election sanctions. We predict it’s worthwhile to revisit this framework cautiously, particularly contemplating the criticism that was repeatedly expressed relating to the constitutionality of assorted campaigning constraints. Our concern concerning the implementation on this invoice is that it appears probably that it’ll result in extra invalidated elections. The invoice introduces the choice that candidates are disqualified earlier than the election, but it’s doable the Constitutional Council guidelines a slate or candidate disqualification was invalid after the election has already taken place. On this state of affairs the Constitutional Council must resolve if the wrongful elimination of a candidate from the poll necessitates the invalidation of that election. A candidate wrongly faraway from the poll doesn’t have a good likelihood of profitable the election they’re operating in.

We urge prudence and hope the ASSU legislature works to handle these points previous to adopting bylaw amendments. The bylaws want revision and we embrace the ASSU taking up the troublesome activity of election coverage reform. 

There are most likely numerous different points that may be improved within the election laws (see, for instance, this current op-ed by one of many authors) and it might be advisable to ask a joint committee to judge your complete bundle of rules in mild of the ASSU Structure, Constitutional Council rulings and common finest practices in dialogue with the scholar group — not solely to optimize election safety, but in addition to make it a nice course of for candidates and voters alike, hopefully with increased turnout and extra candidates consequently.

We urge the present members of the ASSU legislature to postpone adoption of those bylaw amendments and as a substitute enable the newly elected members to resolve the problems we increase right here.

Lodewijk Gelauff is a Ph.D. candidate in administration science and engineering, and a member of the Crowdsourced Democracy Group. He was a member of the ASSU Constitutional Council from 2019 till 2022.

Viktor Krapivin is a Ph.D. candidate in utilized physics and has been a member of the ASSU Constitutional Council since 2018.