UPUA Amends Code Ahead Of 14th Assembly Election
Bear with me here, folks. The University Park Undergraduate Association spent most of its meeting Wednesday night discussing changes to its Election Code. This pleasure comes but once a year and always seems controversial.
UPUA Speaker Bhavin Shah led a working group to develop the original amendments to the code, but throughout the night, a number of amendments were proposed on the floor. Representative Zach Robinson opened his remarks by explaining he believes the Election Code needs a serious overhaul and that the amendments he suggested are a step in the right direction.
Representative Jake Springer even went so far as to speak “as a student, not as a representative” during UPUA’s weekly Open Student Forum time. He described an issue that persists on Election Day when candidates and supporters with iPads flag down students to vote despite the fact that they’re sometimes utterly uneducated about the candidates. Spoiler alert: This issue doesn’t have a direct resolution. However, Springer used it to illustrate the need to reinforce the principles of representative democracy through the election code.
Here’s an overview of the discussions:
Last year’s UPUA Assembly chose to eliminate language in the Election Code that allowed cross-filing for candidates, or essentially running for an executive ticket and a representative seat at the same time. Robinson proposed an amendment to reinstate this possibility, mainly to rejuvenate the competition among elections. The only election since the institution was removed — for the current 13th Assembly — was executively uncontested.
Cross-filing allows losing executive candidates to still become representatives in the Assembly, should they choose to do so and receive enough votes as a representative. Those against cross-filing argue that students who aspire to become representatives could run on executive tickets to use the increased spending cap and publicity to boost their name recognition on the ballot. However, not allowing cross-filing can discourage qualified candidates from running on executive tickets because they’re afraid of being ousted from the organization entirely if they lose.
The Assembly ultimately chose not to re-allow cross-filing, so it should be interesting to see the slate of candidates for the upcoming executive election and whether it’s contested.
The other consideration that drew significant discussion was about how many representative candidates an executive ticket can endorse. For context, the full assembly includes 20 at-large representatives. Previous executive tickets could endorse up to 20 representatives, but the amendment drops that number to 15. The idea is that this will allow more candidates not on the winning executive ticket to still get elected and bring diversity of thought to the Assembly. A limit of 10 endorsements was also discussed, but ultimately shot down, as was a differentiation between contested and uncontested executive elections.
Conduct Background Checks
Another new addition to the code is an amendment that requires all candidates to go through a student conduct “background check” to ensure they haven’t been found guilty of any violations that surpass a certain threshold of “seriousness.” Violations considered serious for these purposes include things like sexual assault, so a relatively minor issue like drinking in your freshman dorm shouldn’t prohibit anyone from running.
The office won’t disclose specific conduct violations to the Elections Commission, but will effectively give either a thumbs up or a thumbs down to those planning to run for office. This was generally agreed upon by the Assembly without contest.
The final controversial issue of the night is whether candidates should be required to disclose the student orgs they’re involved with on the designated campaign bio. This would in theory be tracked through Penn State’s student org management system, where organizations are required to enter their active member lists each school year. The amendment would keep students from omitting any organizations they’re involved in, which supporters said should be public knowledge for voters to make the most informed decisions.
The measure was ultimately postponed to gather additional information and feasibility. Shah said it will be be brought back up in the next few weeks for consideration.
The entire election code was ultimately passed with a vote of 26-6. Oh, and the Assembly also passed resolutions to support voter registration and absentee ballot reform and to support a report from the Academic Integrity Task Force. You can read more about that here.
Happy almost UPUA election season!
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