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USG Senate upholds appeal over Caterpillar referendum, will withhold statement to University for or against referendum

USG’s email said that by its Constitution, “with a majority of student votes, Referendum 3 passes”

<h5>Flyers both for and against Referendum No. 3 were pinned in Frist Campus Center.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Annie Rupertus / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Flyers both for and against Referendum No. 3 were pinned in Frist Campus Center. 
Annie Rupertus / The Daily Princetonian

A week after voting closed on student body referenda, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Senate announced in an email to students that in an Executive Session on Monday, April 18, the body decided to uphold an appeal against the actions of USG Chief Elections Manager Brian Li ’24 in a 15–5 vote with four members abstaining. 

While upholding the appeal, USG also said in the email that by the rules of the USG Constitution, the referendum, which called on the University to boycott Caterpillar equipment, passes. 

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“Under the provisions of the USG Constitution, with a majority of student votes, Referendum 3 passes,” the Wednesday, April 20 email read, “however, the USG Senate voted to uphold the appeal as detailed above and has voted on the substance of this paper as a remedy.”

Referendum No. 3, the last Spring 2022 result to be certified, was sponsored by Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) President Eric Periman ’23 and calls upon the University to halt its use of Caterpillar construction machinery in campus construction, “Given the violent role that Caterpillar machinery has played in the mass demolition of Palestinian homes, the murder of Palestinians and other innocent people, and the promotion of the prison-industrial complex.”

Preliminary results showed that the referendum had passed with a 52 percent majority of the votes, according to USG Constitution that states that referenda must receive a majority of votes for or against, excluding abstentions. But in an appeal initiated by USG Treasurer Adam Hoffman ’23 cited communications between Li and Tigers for Israel (TFI) President Jared Stone ’24, which implied that abstentions would be counted in the total number of votes cast, thus theoretically giving the referendum 44 percent of the vote if abstentions were counted in the total. 

Hoffman is the former vice president of TFI.

In upholding the appeal, the Senate took a number of steps as remedies to the appeal. The first was to develop a Paper on Referendum 3, which will be sent to University officials to demonstrate the will of the student body. 

“The USG will not make a statement on behalf of the student body in favor of or against the referendum,” the announcement stated. 

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USG Vice President Hannah Kapoor ’23 wrote in a message to The Daily Princetonian, “Though there was indeed disagreement surrounding the outcome, the conclusion was reached by fair and democratic procedure.”

“It is disappointing to see the USG act in violation and contradiction of the USG constitution by not declaring a clear winner in this referendum election,” Periman wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “Nevertheless, PCP is incredibly enthusiastic by our victorious result and we intend to use the clear will of the undergraduate student body and the momentum generated by our campaign to continue to pressure the University administration to halt all usage of Caterpillar construction machinery.”

PCP celebrated the referendum election results in an Instagram story following the announcement email. 

“We want to thank EVERYONE who put their passion, time, and energy into this campaign and allowed us to create real change and promote real conversations about Palestinian liberation on campus,” the PCP post said. “This is not the end but just the beginning.”

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Myles McKnight ’23, a member of the opposition to the referendum, wrote in an email to the ‘Prince,’ “In upholding our objection, the USG Senate declared its own election unfair. That was the right call, and we are very pleased.”  

The official opposition statement, published on @princeton_tigers_united on Instagram, shared similar sentiments, writing, “We are pleased the USG Senate has overwhelmingly found that the counting of votes in the Caterpillar referendum was not conducted fairly and effectively nullified the results.”

The Senate also expressed plans to amend the Constitution to clarify “constitutional guidance on abstentions,” to consider appointing a deputy chief elections manager and a co-chief elections manager, and to review the Constitution and Elections Handbook with the consideration of amendments by the end of the summer.

The announcement included a condemnation of “harassment, dissemination of personal information, and targeted claims of bias and corruption” against Li, as well as of discrimination and harassment more broadly. “We stand with each and every member of our community — including our peers of Jewish, Muslim, Palestinian, and Israeli identities,” they wrote.

“I would like to echo the statements by my colleagues that our Chief Elections Manager deserves so much better than he has received,” CCA Chair Isabella Shutt ’24 wrote in a message to the ‘Prince.’ “His character, dedication, and passion for the democratic process have and continue to impress me.”

Li wrote to the ‘Prince’ in regards to the election, “I’m hoping that the student body will have a clearer picture of how the events unfolded and what has been done about them.”

The Paper included the text of the referendum, as well as the appeal submitted by Hoffman and co-signed by Sustainability Chair Audrey Zhang ’25, U-Councilor Carlisle Imperial ’25, and Class of 2025 Senator Ned Dockery ’25.

Reid Zlotky ’23, the official opposition leader to the referendum, could not be immediately reached at the time of publication.

The vote followed a special meeting of the Senate on Monday, April 18 during which USG members heard statements from co-signatories of the appeal, the referendum sponsor, and a representative of the opposition leader before heading into a closed meeting to discuss and vote on whether to accept an appeal.

USG President Mayu Takeuchi ’23 noted in a message to the ‘Prince’ that the meeting lasted over three hours.

Both the meeting and the announcement follow a week of heated campus discourse over the election results for the referendum ballot.

Academics Chair Austin Davis ’23, Hoffman, USLC Chair Avi Attar ’25,  Zhang, Class of 2024 Senator Mariam Latif ’24, Class of 2023 Senators Gisell Curbelo ’23 and Kanishkh Kanodia ’23, U-Council Chair Riley Martinez ’23, U-Councilors Stephen Daniels ’24, Imperial, Mohamed Jishi ’24, Alen Palic ’23, Anna Sivaraj ’23, Eric Sklanka ’23, Vian Wagatsuma ’23, and Jiwon Yun ’22, did not respond to requests for comment from the ‘Prince,’ nor did they disclose their votes, prior to publication.

Kapoor, Social Chair Madison Linton ’24, Class of 2024 Senator Sean Bradley ’24, Class of 2025 Senator Walker Penfield ’25, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Chair Braiden Aaronson ’25, and Takeuchi declined to disclose their votes.

In a message to the ‘Prince,’ Takeuchi explained this choice, writing, “I won’t disclose my votes out of respect for the Constitutional procedures of the Executive Session, which are designed as closed sessions so voting Senate members can fully and honestly deliberate without any external pressures, and out of respect for my fellow members of the Senate.”

Dockery expressed the same sentiments to the ‘Prince.’

This article is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Senior News Writer Sam Kagan contributed reporting to this piece.

Annie Rupertus is a first-year from Philadelphia and a News Staff Writer who covers USG for the ‘Prince.’ 

Paige Cromley is a sophomore who writes for the News, Features, and Arts & Culture sections of the ‘Prince.’ 

Katherine Dailey is a Co-Head News Editor who often covers breaking news, politics, and University affairs.

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