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Editorial: USAC’s hasty change of bylaw reveals lack of oversight

By Editorial Board

November 7, 2019 10:29 pm

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated the council swore in Millen Srivastava. In fact, the judicial board swore in Srivastava. The article also incorrectly stated Bella Martin was found guilty by the judicial board of coercing votes. In fact, Martin was accused by students of coercing votes.

This post was updated Nov. 20 at 7:10 p.m.

After waiting months for a special election to pick the last three people in control of $9 million in student money, judicial overreach has manipulated the results in an unprecedented way.

During a tumultuous meeting Tuesday, allegations arose that Orion Smedley, one of the two newly elected general representatives, had violated election rules by campaigning on the Hill. Undergraduate Students Association Judicial Board Chief Justice Jamail Gibbs chose not to swear in him or Brandon Broukhim, the other newly elected representative.

Rather than stick to precedent and wait to swear in all three of the newly elected council members at once, though, the judicial board swore in Millen Srivastava, the newly elected Financial Supports commissioner, after the council voted to change Undergraduate Students Association Council bylaws and allow the swearing in of individual members. This contrasts with the previous bylaw, which required all members to be sworn in as a group.

To make matters worse, USAC Election Board Chair Kyana Shajari, who oversaw this and last spring’s elections, quit during the meeting, citing council members’ criticisms of her management.

These theatrics are nothing new for USAC – but it’s time they come to an end.

Election board chairs cannot resign on a whim during a weekly board meeting. Decisions to rewrite the USAC bylaws should not be made after the election or include a hurried vote mid-session. And while the bylaw was reviewed by the constitutional review committee, allowing the council the unchecked power to retroactively change bylaws within a meeting could easily lead to systemic abuse in the future.

These measures are so unprecedented that even after the 2018 election results were contested as a result of voter coercion on the part of then-general representative candidate Bella Martin and Bruins United – a far greater offense than a campaign violation – USAC didn’t take them.

Instead, the 2017 USAC members put off swearing in the newly elected 2018 council members until they could swear all of them in at once, despite some of the offices’ time-sensitive nature.

And behind all this year’s bylaw changes lie more unprecedented decisions.

Smedley’s potential violation of the election code reflects similar violations that occur each year during USAC elections – this situation is nothing new. Typically, matters like this are remedied through sanctions, handed down by the election board.

Even in the case of Martin, who was accused by students of coercing votes, disqualification was considered, but ultimately passed over. If that is not a disqualifiable offence, the level of discipline should be held over when considering Smedley’s violations.

The decision to selectively swear members in was arguably necessary for efficiency’s sake – students have the right to see their elected representatives in office without major delay. But the council should not be able to make these decisions without some form of internal review, a process that would not necessitate an extended period of time.

Because if the council is able to impose its own rules on the fly with no oversight, USAC has bigger issues to address than minor violations.

And while it continues to debate minutia, an excess of power might just fly under the radar.

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