Mattea amendments to appear on ballot, despite council ruling

| Staff Reporter

Student Union Constitutional Council ruled Wednesday morning that the petition submitted by Trevor Mattea with amendments to the SU constitution was unconstitutional.

The council ruled that signatures on petitions for initiatives, referendums, recalls and block funding must refer specifically to the item or action that is to be voted on in the election. Signatures are invalidated should the item or action that is being referred to be changed.

But the Election Commission released its own statement later Wednesday afternoon, stating that Mattea’s proposed amendments to the Constitution would remain on the ballot. Since the ruling by Constitutional Council was not ex post facto, it will affect only future decisions.

Constitutional Council called a hearing for Tuesday night to determine the validity of Mattea’s petition to amend the SU Constitution. When Mattea started collecting the 900 signatures for his petition, the exact wording of each amendment had not been finalized, so according to the ruling, these initial signatures acquired before Mattea finalized the amendments are invalid.

In the unanimous opinion of Constitutional Council, “The Council finds that a petition requires a specified amendment prior to collecting signatures so that the signatures can support a petition calling for an election on that specified amendment. For the same reasons, language in the amendment cannot change while collecting signatures or after signatures have been collected. Should the language change, the petition would refer to a new amendment, thereby invalidating all previous signatures.”

According to a post on the SU Web site, the election commissioners wrote, “[Since] we had already approved or rejected all petitions submitted to us based both on our own definition of a valid signature and established precedent for accepting petitions, we do not find it appropriate to overturn our own decisions…We believe that such late-game disruption to the election process is in itself unfair to both the candidates and the student body.”

Testifying before the Constitutional Council, Speaker of the Senate Chase Sackett filed a petition dated Feb. 15 that asked when a signature on a petition to amend the Constitution is valid and whether these amendments must be voted on as one unit or may be voted on separately. Sackett said that he filed the petition because there was a lot of confusion about the exact petition process.

“A lot of students were concerned about how the process was going because it didn’t seem to be working right in terms of the signature collection because they weren’t sure what they were signing for,” Sackett said. 

Constitutional Council scheduled the fact-finding investigation for Tuesday and agreed to an open hearing upon constituent request. While this was the first time that Constitutional Council had conducted an open hearing, the appeal for an open hearing isn’t unusual.

“Constituents are free to request an open hearing,” Chief Justice of SU Natacha Lam said. “This is the first time that request has been made.”

At the Constitutional Council fact-finding investigation on Tuesday, Mattea stated that he believed he had correctly followed procedure. He questioned Constitutional Council’s equality of treatment, mentioning that the council had singled him out at the hearing while there were other students who were circulating petitions.

“The grievance process has been extremely confusing, and the Constitutional Council has not been answering my questions and is denying me my procedural rights outlined in the [Student Union] Constitution,” Mattea said in his opening statement. “As a result, I believe that whatever decision is reached is illegitimate.”

Sophomore Joseph Marcus, an SU senator, is one person who testified during the fact-finding investigation. He originally opted to attend the hearing because he was curious to see how Constitutional Council operated. He went in with a neutral position but changed his opinion as the investigation proceeded because he said Mattea seemed very well read on the constitution and made a strong argument.

“Trevor’s argument was leaning towards ‘OK, this makes sense. Everything’s that’s been done is valid,’ ” Marcus said.

After the decision was released, Marcus said he did not plan to vote in support of any of Mattea’s amendments, but he was glad to see that the amendments were going to make it onto the ballot. He added that he found the decision by Constitutional Council to be entirely valid.

“I don’t plan on voting yes to his changes,” Marcus said. “However, I do believe the principles under his amendments because it causes more accountability on the executives. I think that it’s better to have it on the ballot and have the discussion go on. And I might hear a point that convinces me otherwise. And to arbitrarily remove it from the ballot is something I’m against.”

Mattea was less satisfied with the decision.

“I think it’s a decision that makes sense, but I don’t believe it was a decision that took anything I said into account, nor did it take the testimony of Colin [Towery, one of the Election Commissioners] or any of my witnesses into account,” Mattea said. “So what was the point? I don’t know. I would just like to hear why my arguments are invalid. And I haven’t heard that either.”

Sackett was just glad to receive a definitive ruling on the matter.

“It’s a legitimate question that a lot of people have,” Sackett said. “I wasn’t trying to have a specific result. I’m glad it got answered to whatever degree it was.”

Senate questioned the process Wednesday night during the weekly Senate meeting and has called for the issue to be discussed at next week’s Senate meeting.

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