An initiative on the spring elections ballot seeks to amend the Associated Students Constitution to change the number of votes needed to pass future A.S. ballot measures.
Under the current A.S. Constitution, an election is not valid unless at least 20 percent of the student population votes, and two-thirds approval from the voter turnout is required to pass an initiative. Campus-wide elections use a sliding scale system that allows a simple majority to pass initiatives under some circumstances. The “Sliding Scale Elections” amendment seeks to change this, making it the same as campus-wide policy and easier for A.S. initiatives to pass.
The Sliding Scale Elections initiative has faced opposition even within A.S., whose Legislative Council did not approve it for the ballot until it had been introduced a second time. Critics claim the initiative is being pushed, not by the student representatives, but by A.S. Director Don Daves-Rougeaux to make it easier to pass an A.S. base fee measure to increase A.S.’s lock-in fee. Base fee initiatives have failed three times in the last two years. Off-Campus Representative Eva Von Thury said the initiative is unfair to students in that it would allow a minority of the student population to decide for the majority.
“The people that come out to vote basically make up [about] 22 percent [of the voting population]; they are the people who have a vested interest in what’s on the ballot … so you have a minority deciding for the majority and that’s dangerous,” Von Thury said. “It’s not really fair, and it doesn’t really seem right.”
Leg Council initially voted down the placement of the measure for this spring’s ballot, but later approved placing the measure on the ballot at a later meeting. The author of the amendment, Off-Campus Representative Alexis Krieg, said that while it was possible that the sliding scale would make it easier for initiatives to pass, that was not her intent when writing the amendment.
“I believe we are trying to make our election procedure match the campus-wide election procedures, as far as how votes are counted,” Krieg said. “It might perhaps make some things easier; however, if one were to looks at the campus-wide elections in recent years, even with the sliding scale in effect, the sports initiatives keep failing. You can still not get the majority vote needed with the sliding scale in place.”
Some Legislative Council members speculate that the sliding scale amendment was pushed forward by Daves-Rougeaux, not students.
“The sliding scale election constitution amendment was primarily initiated by the Executive Director of Associated Students,” said a Legislative Council member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Executive Director believes that the [A.S. Base] fee would have a higher chance of passing if the sliding scale amendment successfully passed through the Spring Elections.”
Daves-Rougeaux said he did not initiate the measure, but discussed how A.S. could resolve some of its internal problems with various members of Leg Council and the A.S. Executive Board. He said the introduction of sliding scale elections was one of the options that came from the discussion.
“It’s my job as an adviser to make recommendations and suggestions to students as to how I best feel we can accommodate the needs of the organization,” Daves-Rougeaux said.
Daves-Rougeaux said the amendment was not specifically intended to make it easier to pass the A.S. Base Fee increase.
“Primarily we’re trying to make sure A.S. election processes are in line with campus-wide elections processes as well. So the Campus Elections [Commission] has a sliding scale continuum that they utilize to run various initiatives campus-wide. We’re sort of initially trying to come in line with the process,” Daves-Rougeaux said.
Some Leg Council members do not agree with Daves-Rougeaux’s justification for the amendment.
“They’re attempting to raise student fees through ballot initiatives that otherwise would not receive two-thirds support from the student body through an electoral process,” Off-Campus Representative Scott Talkov said. “Under the sliding scale, most measures would probably end up needing only a majority vote and that would be easier to receive than a two-thirds vote.”
The sliding scale system could help A.S. amend other parts of the constitution to better meet the needs of the student body, Daves-Rougeaux said.
“We have fees that come through Associated Students, Student Health for example; we collect $12.50 per student and that’s mandated in our constitution. Well, we would like to remove that and give that to Student Health so that it’s not part of the A.S. fee,” Daves-Rougeaux said. “It’s still a fee that students would pay, but we don’t see the money, we don’t administrate it, we don’t see it, it goes straight to Student Health. That’s an example of something we would like to change in our constitution, but it’s very difficult to get two-thirds [approval] regardless of the voter turnout.”
If the sliding scale constitutional amendment passes, a 5-year voter turnout average would be calculated from previous A.S. elections, and would be used to determine what percentage of the turnout approval needed to pass an initiative. If the voter turnout is the minimum required, 20 percent, then the current two-thirds voter approval is required to pass the initiative. However, if the voter turnout is above the 5-year average then only 50 percent plus one vote would be needed to pass the initiative. Even though the numbers of votes needed to approve an initiative would be lowered by the sliding scale, some members of A.S. are not concerned that a minority of students could swing the vote.
“You’re still looking at a 50 percent plus one ‘Yes’ vote-rate, so it’s never going to be a minority opinion. Mathematically, there will never be a minority opinion that approves these initiatives,” A.S. President Chrystine Lawson said.
Because of the two-thirds requirement, initiatives have failed in the past despite sizable majorities, Daves-Rougeaux said.
“With 58 percent, 64 percent, 65 percent [approval from the voting population] on measures in the past, which in my opinion, shows pretty significant support on the part of the students for those particular measure,” Daves-Rougeaux said. “It’s just that the two-thirds barrier is prohibitive.”
With tuition rising and a failing economy, Talkov said he does not think now is the time to make it easier to raise student fees.
“The sliding scale is bad for students because it places increasing constraints on the ever increasing cost of the University of California,” he said. “At this juncture in history, student fees have never been higher, and this is the wrong time for this measure to be on the ballot.”