Council’s ruling sparks an outcry over transparency
Student Union elections will take place this week, and on the ballot will be proposed constitutional changes written by Trevor Mattea. The decision for his amendments to remain on the ballot was one that confused many and caused an outcry for transparency and clarification on the part of the SU Constitutional Council and Election Commission.
A grievance was filed on Feb. 15, asking Constitutional Council to look into when, according to the SU constitution, a signature on a petition becomes a signature. The grievance also sought to clarify whether multiple proposals—for which signatures were collected all at once—should appear together or separately on the ballot.
Though the grievance is general, it particularly applies to Trevor Mattea’s constitutional proposals. Mattea proposed nine separate constitutional changes that aim to give the SU president more power, allow students who are abroad to run for SU office, give individuals the right to appeal for funding, and change the timing of elections. Mattea collected signatures before the wording of his amendments was finalized and collected 900 signatures for the nine amendments as a whole—not 900 for each amendment.
Constitutional Council found that according to the constitution, petitions must be specified, and that if signatures are collected for a body of proposals, they should appear on the ballot as one measure.
The decision was not ex post facto, and was left to the Election Commission to enforce. The Election Commission decided to permit Mattea’s proposals to go on the ballot because they had approved them beforehand.
“All along [we’ve] never given Trevor any indication that the way he’s been collecting signatures—under the assumption that he was letting people know explicitly that he didn’t have final language—that his petition was invalid,” said senior Colin Towery, the election commissioner. “On that basis, we decided it would be hypocritical to reject his petition after having already approved it by our own definition.”
Although Mattea’s proposal will appear on the ballot, Mattea is not confident that the process Constitutional Council went through was entirely constitutional. Additionally, many senators are not comfortable with the transparency of Constitutional Council’s process, and have summoned council members to Senate on Wednesday for questioning.
In inquiring into when signatures were valid, Constitutional Council selected names from Mattea’s petition and e-mailed the students asking them about their understanding of the petition. Constitutional Council has not provided any information about who was selected or how, what questions were asked or the results they received.
Additionally, Mattea feels that he personally was on trial, and as an accused, was not afforded his rights. This was prompted by an e-mail sent to him initially alerting him of the grievance. The e-mail, sent by Justice Justin Taylor, a sophomore, said that it had been “alleged” that Mattea had been collecting signatures on different forms of legislation and collecting them on a body of proposals as a whole.
“I believe that accusations and allegations are the same thing,” Mattea said. “It seems like the allegations and the inquiry were tied together from the beginning.”
Taylor later apologized for the confusion 36 hours later, though according to Mattea, no one ever explicitly said that he was not on trial, and he felt as though he was.
“They never clearly said whether it was a trial or not, and if they told me it wasn’t a trial I’m not sure I would have believed them,” Mattea said.
Chief Justice Natacha Lam, a senior, said this was not the case.
“Our grievance was about something general, so we make a general decision and it’s up to the lower bodies to enforce that,” Lam said.
Mattea was only even notified of the grievance because it would both affect his petition and his testimony, and the testimony of those involved with his petition would help with fact-finding.
The interactions between Mattea and Constitutional Council also differed from the interactions between Diversity Affairs Council’s (DAC) proponents. Interactions with Mattea were more accusatory, while the DAC supporters were asked to send in information.
There was another glitch in the process. Grievances are submitted online and may be anonymous. But due to a mistake, it was revealed that Speaker of the Senate Chase Sackett filed the grievance, which politicized the process. Sackett is also involved in the DAC proposal. As speaker, he summoned Constituional Council members to Senate on Wednesday.
This raises the question of whether there will be a conflict of interest at the meeting.
“I do think that SU is definitely going to have to look at potentially revising the grievance process, increasing transparency, making sure the students know what’s going on,” Sackett said.
Even after the elections, Mattea hopes that he can find justice in the system.
“I will also campaign to hold SU accountable when it messes up this process so much,” Mattea said. “I hope that all constituents of SU can have the confidence that if they’re going to be accused of something, they’ll be treated fairly and obstacles won’t be thrown in the way.”