The Georgetown University Student Association Constitutional Council invalidated the results of the Dec. 1 referendum on a constitutional amendment to abolish the GUSA senate and replace it with a new, elected assembly Friday evening.
The ruling states that the senate violated GUSA bylaws requiring full details of the referendum be released 14 days prior to voting.
The decision also permanently prohibits the GUSA Election Commission from releasing the results of the referendum to the public or to anyone outside the commission. The ruling can be appealed, however, and does not prohibit GUSA from holding another referendum on the same amendment.
“This failure to adhere to the timeline provided in GUSA Constitution Article VII Section 4 requires this Council’s Holding of the December 1st Constitutional Referendum Vote as invalid,” the decision reads. “The Constitutional Council hereby declares that the results of the December 1st Constitutional Referendum are null and void.”
Allegations of electioneering began Dec. 1, several hours before polls officially closed, when opponents of the referendum filed a complaint with the council regarding the referendum. The council delayed the results pending a public hearing on the complaint.
The petitioners alleged that GUSA violated its own bylaws by attempting to influence students to vote in favor of the referendum at polling stations and by failing to present the referendum to the student body in a timely manner. They cited the prominent display of “yes” campaign posters at polling stations and offers of free food in exchange for votes.
GUSA senators Jasmin Ouseph (SFS ’19), Isaac Liu (COL ’20) and Charles Hajjar (MSB ’20), GUSA Free Speech Policy Team chair D.J. Angelini (MSB ’17), GUSA Dining and Auxiliary Services Policy Team chair Mark Camilli (COL ’19) and Dylan Hughes (COL ’19), who is unaffiliated with GUSA, filed the complaint on the evening of Dec. 1. The council extended its enjoinment of the results to Dec. 5.
The council’s decision rejects much of the core of the petitioners’ argument, ruling that the GUSA bylaws prohibiting electioneering at polling stations are strictly worded to apply to elections involving candidates instead of referendums.
“I’m disappointed that the CC believed the bylaws, as currently written, did not reject electioneering in a referendum,” Camilli said. “However, I am pleased that they agreed with us and have decided that the referendum results should be invalidated, especially considering the timeline that they did not publicly release the content of the amendment within the allotted time frame.”
In a non-binding additional holding, the council suggested that the current lack of broader rules governing GUSA elections may run against the spirit of democratic norms, even though the electioneering was allowed under the bylaws as they are currently written.
“This Council submits that without the passage of a Student Bill of Rights that protects the autonomy of the polling station, as well as other fundamental voting rights, democratic norms of governance are imperiled,” the decision reads.
GUSA Election Commissioner Grady Willard (SFS ’18) said the referendum highlighted the need for clearer bylaws.
“The referendum shows the need for bylaws reform, especially as it has to do with bylaws governing referendums,” Willard said. “We look forward to working with GUSA to updating the bylaws in the coming months.”
Ouseph said she does not share the council’s view that the electioneering was allowed under the bylaws, but said she approves of the decision and intends to pursue election reform going forward.
“I’m glad that the Council invalidated the results of the election but I still personally disagree with several of the Council’s holdings regarding our perceived electioneering of the referendum,” Ouseph wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I think my goals moving forward are to work on election reform so issues like this don’t occur in the future.”
GUSA Senate Speaker Richie Mullaney (COL ’18) said GUSA is now exploring possible next steps.
“We appreciate the Constitutional Council’s thorough examination of the case. We’re currently looking over their ruling in order to determine our next steps and will be able to share more information once we come to a decision,” Mullaney said. “We remain proud of our team and its efforts during the campaign and look forward to making constructive changes moving forward.”
This post has been updated.
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