The Undergraduate Student Government implemented reforms lastSundayto make the referendum process more organized and to allow more student discussion and dialogue.
USG president Ella Cheng ’16 explained that the reforms include a rule that referenda can only be sent out during an election cycle and must be signed by 10 percent of the student body in order to appear on the ballot.
Cheng is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.
She also explained that referendum sponsors must send the referendum to the USG five weeks before the election period. Signatures are collected in the third week, while an opposition party is allowed to form during the fourth week. Then campaigning, during which time the parties can put up posters and hold forums and debates, occurs during the fifth week.
USG will help the parties put out pro-con statements for the student body to read during the campaigning period, she said.
Cheng noted that previous regulations had called for referenda to be sent in three weeks before the voting period and that this change to five weeks, while in some ways inconvenient, is intended to give the opposition party more of a chance to form.
“We hope that this five weeks will allow the substantive, quality debate that a lot of people were asking for,” Cheng said.
Former chief elections manager Grant Golub ’17, who started working on the reforms in May when he was still in his role, noted that there also will be a spending cap of $500 on all spending related to referenda from now on, and referendum sponsors will be governed by the same rules as USG officer candidates.
He added that if a referendum has been passed, USG will work with the sponsors to draft a policy proposal to send to the appropriate administrator.
Golub is a former staff writer and copy editor for the ‘Prince.’
Golub explained that new referendum policies were needed because the previous rules were very unclear, noting that as chief elections manager in spring 2015, he found it was difficultto run the controversial referenda on divestment and Hose Bickerwithin the context of the USG framework set out by the elections handbook.
Cheng noted that in the case of the divestment referendum, both sides of the issue reported inappropriate conduct, such as ripping signs, and the elections handbook contained no regulations on referenda to resolve the issue.
Cheng also said that the USG instituted the pro-con statements to guarantee both sides’ equal representation and to educate students.
“We don’t want people to vote without any education on the topic,” she said.
Cheng noted that Golub and Zhan Okuda-Lim ’15 had already looked into referendum rules at Harvard and Yale for comparison. Golub explained that over the summer, he and Cheng rewrote the referendum rules before presenting them to the senate in the fall to finalize them.
U-councilor Ethan Marcus ’18, who drafted an amendment to the USG constitution based on the referendum reforms on behalf of the senate, noted that discussions during the fall centered around mostly logistical issues, such as the number of signatures necessary for a referendum to appear on the ballot.
Marcus said that further tweaking may prove necessary but that he is hopeful that the reforms will allow USG to function better in the referendum process and the chief elections manager to gain logistical support during the process.