A last look at ballot issues

Portland State students have one more day to vote in the Associated Students of Portland State University elections. The most contentious item on the ballot this year is a proposed new constitution.

Portland State students have one more day to vote in the Associated Students of Portland State University elections.

The most contentious item on the ballot this year is a proposed new constitution.

Put forth by former ASPSU Vice President Ethan Allen Smith, the proposed constitution would return ASPSU to a structure that focuses on direct representation and separation of powers.

This constitution outlines constituencies—groups of students that share a common feature, such as being first-year students or having majors in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government—and requires that the senator representing the constituency be a member of that group. For instance, only a student whose major is in the Hatfield School of Government can be elected to represent that school.

“This direct representation of the students allows the senate to work more effectively on issues that affect the students at Portland State,” Smith said. “For example, students in the School of Business Administration may have issues and ideas that the students in the School of Art and Design may never contemplate.

“With this kind of direct representation in the senate,” he said, “students are better able to set the agenda for ASPSU and work toward substantive, positive changes that will benefit all the students of Portland State.”

Smith’s constitution would also separate the executive branch of student government from the senate. Smith feels that this separation will give ASPSU more checks and balances, similar to the United States Constitution.

Now, senators are assigned to constituencies after being elected.

Student fee committee Chair Nick Rowe doesn’t think Smith’s constitution would be a positive change. Rowe pointed out that ASPSU has been run on the constituency model before, and it was “so ineffectual at PSU even ASPSU recognized that it was time for it to go.

“Notwithstanding the fact that constituencies haven’t worked, the proposed constitution creates a constituency system that omits historically marginalized communities such as student veterans, student parents, students of color, transfer students and international students.”

Rowe added that this would create a situation where not all PSU students would be able to serve in student government.

Rowe also objected to the fact that a senator who ceased being part of their constituency—say, by changing majors and going into a different college—would be forced to resign.

Butch Oxendine, the executive director of the American Student Government Association, also thinks requiring senators to be a part of the group they represent is a poor choice.

“I think that’s a mistake,” Oxendine said. He pointed out that most college students don’t pay much attention to their student government, and there aren’t many interested in running for office.

Smith’s constitution, Oxendine said, would limit the potential pool of candidates, adding, “That’s dangerous.”

Smith said requiring senators to be members of the constituency they represent would mean those groups would have better advocates, but Oxendine disagrees.

“You can represent a constituency if you do your homework,” Oxendine said, adding that senators should reach out to the people they represent to find out what they want and need.

There is also a senate-sponsored constitutional amendment on the ballot. This amendment, if passed, would make several changes to the current constitution.

In reaction to the controversy caused when Smith proposed his constitution just three days before the ballot was to be finalized, the senate’s amendment specifies when referendums, amendments, and new constitutions must be submitted to the judicial review board so the language can be reviewed for clarity and lack of bias. The amendment would require the documents to be submitted at least one week before voting. It also specifies that new constitutions proposed by students have the signatures of at least 3 percent of the student body.

The amendment would change the term of office for members of the judicial review board to match that of the rest of ASPSU. Currently, justices in the JRB end their service on April 30, and the rest of ASPSU end their terms on May 31. The JRB is in charge of running student elections, so this amendment would ensure that the same JRB members would be in service for the entire election.

The amendment would also require that the senate have a two-thirds vote in favor in order to deny a JRB justice’s request to keep their position for the next year. Currently, only a majority vote is required.

The amendment would require the executive staff—such as the communications director, the legislative affairs director, publications director and the university affairs director—to help the JRB organize elections. The JRB and the executive staff would have to come up with an official plan for running elections by Nov. 30.

The amendment would allow the senate to appoint one member of the student fee committee. Currently, all eight members of the SFC are elected by the student body.

The amendment would also allow the JRB to choose if the president and vice president will be chosen by plurality—whoever gets the most votes wins—or by instant runoff. In instant runoff voting, voters give their top three choices. If a candidate gets more than half of the votes, that candidate wins. If no candidate gets more than half of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The ballots that ranked that candidate as their first choice are then recounted, and the votes are given to the second choice on the ballot. PSU currently uses this system for student elections, but there are concerns that it is becoming too expensive. Allowing the JRB to choose which process is used is supposed to help ASPSU save money.

If both the constitutional amendments and Smith’s new constitution are passed, the new constitution will be put in place, and the amendments will be disregarded.