UC Santa Barbara’s Associated Students Senate currently has three seats to fill — following the resignations of one off-campus senator, one on-campus senator and one Letters & Science collegiate senator — and a looming dispute about how to fill them.
Two appointments to fill the vacant seats of Off-Campus Senator Kyremina Youssef and College of Letters & Science Senator Jose Gonzalez-Herrera were scheduled for last Wednesday’s Senate meeting. However, just minutes in, Internal Vice President Tianna White announced to the Zoom audience that the swearing-in wouldn’t take place that night due to a judicial council case involving the new appointments.
On-Campus Senator Dania De Ramon announced Monday afternoon on Twitter that she will be resigning from her senatorial position to “focus on [her] mental health and well-being.” No replacement has been announced yet.
When a senator resigns or is removed, the runner-up with the next largest sum of votes is appointed to fill the vacancy, according to the Associated Students (A.S.) Legal Code.
But according to a petition obtained by the Nexus, there is an ongoing disagreement within A.S. about how the next highest vote-getter — and thus the runner-up — is determined. It’s now up to the A.S. Judicial Council to decide what the process will be.
Kaitlyn Medland — a third-year political science and history of public policy and law double major — was announced in last week’s Senate agenda to replace Youssef as off-campus senator, while third-year political science and history of public policy and law double major Phillip Huynh was set to replace Gonzalez-Herrera.
The Judicial Council placed an injunction over Medland and Huynh’s Senate appointments last Wednesday, which will halt the process until the council holds a public hearing on Oct. 20 to decide how the three vacancies should be filled.
“This injunction is not meant in any way to obstruct the business of Senate or any other institution, but it is just to ensure that we’re able to handle our cases and process them as we’re supposed to, as laid out in the Associated Students’ Legal Code,” Raymond Alonso, chair of the A.S. Judicial Council, told the Nexus in an interview.
A.S. Legal Code does not indicate a clear system for determining the runners-up, only that the highest vote-getter not elected from the previous spring’s election will fill the position. Under the current method for calculating election results, there are multiple ways to determine the number of votes a candidate receives.
Since 2015, election results have been calculated using a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, where voters rank all candidates in numerical order for a position. Before that, voters would not rank candidates, instead only choosing their top-choice candidate.
“[STV] is a lot more of an inclusive way of being able to properly represent what constituents are voting for. You’re not just voting for one person in every single category, you’re being able to have a say in who’s filling all of those vacancies, not just one of those individuals,” Daniel Segura-Esquivel, a fourth-year sociology and communication double major and current chief of staff for the A.S. Student Advocate General, said.
Segura — along with fourth-year computer science major Dylan Kupsh — filed a petition with the Judicial Council last week stating that White “failed to properly identify ‘the highest vote-getter,’” which resulted in “the wrong runner-up senators being chosen.”
When A.S. Legal Code changed to the STV system, the requirements for choosing a runner-up stayed the same, even as it became more difficult to calculate who a runner-up was, according to Kupsh.
“It made sense in the previous system where people are clearly coming in first, second, third. But in a single transferable vote, that’s not as clear in this sort of voting system,” Kupsh said.
Kupsh and Segura argue in the petition that the votes from last spring’s election need to be recalculated without Youssef and Gonzalez-Herrera, with their votes redistributed to the voters’ second-choice candidates to more accurately reflect who received the most votes: a system known as a “countback election.”
As internal vice president, White is officially in charge of notifying the runners-up and — in this situation — deciding who the runners-up were by Legal Code standards for the highest number of votes. According to the petition, she determined who the runners-up were by looking at election results from the end of election night instead of using the countback election system.
If a countback election was used, meaning that all the votes for Youssef and Gonzalez-Herrera were nullified and the election recalculated, the runners-up would be Alexandra Perez and Ava Kargosha, for off-campus senator and Letters & Science senator, respectively, according to a calculation in the petition.
“The problem here is that [Legal Code] doesn’t define what the next highest vote-getter means,” Kupsh said. “We believe that the countback process is a standard of finding the next highest vote-getter, and it’s used across the world. Basically, no one uses the system that [White] used in this case.”
The petition cites other student governments with STV systems that use the countback system — such as UC Davis — as well as countries with STV — such as Australia — as examples of the regularity of the countback system.
The Campus United party remains in the majority for the Senate, which will not change based on the replacements. Prior to the resignations, Campus United held 14 out of 25 seats, while Isla Vista Party held 10 out of 25; only College of Engineering Senator Surya Pugal ran independently. But with the three resignations, Isla Vista Party represents only seven out of 25 seats. Both Medland and Huynh ran with Campus United, while Perez and Kargosha both ran with Isla Vista Party.