When casting their ballots in the 2019 Associated Student Government general election, some students were confused by the second referendum item on the ballot, unsure of what the wording meant and what they were voting for.
Of the 5,766 students who voted on Referendum Item No. 2, over 1,500 opted to skip the question or preferred not to respond.
The referendum appeared on the ballot in the form of the question, “Would you be in favor of approving an amendment, proposed and passed by the ASG Senate, to update ASG Constitutional language regarding senate seat allocation during elections; reflecting the correct administrative capabilities in classifying students?”
The referendum proposed a reversal of a previous amendment to the ASG Constitution that was declared unconstitutional.
Last year, an amendment was added to the ASG Constitution guaranteeing at least one Senate seat to an international student during elections. Senate Chairman Colman Betler and ASG President J.P. Gairhan wrote the initial bill two years ago, proposing the amendment when they were senators, with the intention of making ASG elections more inclusive.
Freshman Celia Judd, an international student in the Walton College of Business, thinks the wording of the referendum was unclear and misleading.
“I don’t feel the question on the ballot made any sense. I had to read over it a few times and I still didn’t know what it was about,” Judd said. “I think it was misleading because there was no mention of international students, which isn’t right.”
Betler and Gairhan realized after the Constitution was amended that ASG could not enforce the change because international students are a protected group on campus, Betler said.
Discrimination based on an individual’s actual or perceived association with national or ethnic origin is prohibited by the UA Non-Discrimination Policy.
Betler wanted the constitutional language to correctly align with the non-discrimination policy, and a referendum vote is needed to make any amendments to the Constitution, he said.
When Betler wrote Referendum Item No. 2, he faced the challenge of making a necessary change under a very limited time span, he said.
“I understand that to someone not in the organization, it was wordy, and it was something they didn’t understand,” Betler said. “We’ve heard that, and my real response to that is, we did our best.”
Junior Kristyn Robling, who is majoring in biomedical engineering, voted “yes” on the referendum. She did not have any prior knowledge on the context of the referendum before voting other than what was written on the ballot, she said.
“I think it was clear enough that I was able to determine what the overall changes would be, but it would have been beneficial if there had been an example of the changes (or) an explanation of what exactly was being changed,” Robling said.
Sophomore Jon Weston, who is majoring in biology, also voted “yes.”
“I had no idea what the question was asking, so I said, ‘Sure, let’s pass it,’” Weston said.
Betler faced limitations in terms of how long the referendum could be and how much information he could include, he said.
Betler thinks there was no feasible way to explain the entire background of the referendum on the ballot, and he had difficulty explaining it partially without making it seem as though Senate seats are being taken away from international students, he said.
When Betler learned that a student voiced concerns to ASG about how the referendum was worded, he reached out to that student personally but did not receive a response, he said.
ASG members had little time to promote the referendum prior to the election because it was brought to the Senate floor later than anticipated. They also did not have nearly as many resources as they did with the first referendum, which had support from the Office of Student Activities as an advantage, Betler said.
Referendum Item No. 1 was a collaborative effort with the Office of Student Activities to increase the student activity fee by 2.5% per year over five years.