Law Weekly Staff Article

Last Monday, the SBA’s Constitutional Committee submitted its proposed edits to the SBA Constitution to the Voting Members. For a list of those proposed changes, see the article in the November 16, 2016 edition of the Virginia Law Weekly. The SBA adopted the changes through a unanimous roll call vote on Monday, officially amending the Constitution. The majority of the changes that were adopted were related to the elections process at the Law School. These election changes were proposed by another SBA committee, the Election Rules Committee, chaired by SBA Vice-President Sami Al-Marzoog.

    The most immediate changes to the elected positions involve the direct election of the Treasurer and the removal of the SBA voting power of the Ex Officio Members. For the past few years, the Treasurer has not been directly elected by the Law School population. Instead, the newly elected SBA elected a Treasurer from its own Senatorial body in a subsequent election. This secondary election of the Treasurer was meant to insulate the Treasurer from the political influences that would come from answering directly to the student body. However, political influences are not really present in the SBA nor its elections, and any such influences are not particular to the role of Treasurer. Therefore, the Treasurer will now be directly elected like every other position.

    In addition, all Ex Officio members will be unable to vote on SBA issues. Under both the previous and current SBA Constitutions, four enumerated positions were listed as Ex Officio members: UJC Representatives, Honor Representatives, Student Council Representatives, and the ABA Representative. These Ex Officio members were elected by the student body but held their positions on other bodies and had voting power in those respective bodies. However, the previous Constitution allowed some of these members—specifically, the ABA Rep and the StudCo Reps—to have a vote on the SBA, while the remaining Ex Officio members could not vote on the SBA. There was no explanation for this inconsistent treatment of the various Ex Officio members, so to treat them consistently and prevent conflicting votes with their respective bodies, none of these members shall have a vote on the SBA.

    The largest and most significant change made to the elections process at the Law School was the decision to separate from the University Board of Elections (UBE), the Main Grounds Special Status Group that ordinarily administers elections. Most of the 12 schools of UVa use UBE to run elections for student government, UJC/Honor roles, and other school-wide positions; notably, Darden does not use the UBE for its election process. One of the primary reasons that the Law School decided to examine its relationship with the UBE was last year’s election process and its lack of customization to the Law School’s needs.

    The UBE requires a relatively tough process to even appear on the ballot in the first place. First, all applicants must complete a quiz about the election rules. While this quiz isn’t overly difficult, it is an extra procedural step, and the rules that it tests are often inapplicable to the Law School. For example, regulations on chalking are not really relevant for the Law School, since chalking isn’t really used on North Grounds. 

Secondly, the UBE also requires candidates to get the signature of a requisite number of future constituents to even appear on the ballot. While getting somewhere between twenty and fifty signatures isn’t that hard, it isn’t super easy; additionally, candidates would just pass the sheet around a large lecture class instead of speaking with future voters, defeating the purpose of getting the signatures in the first place. Perhaps most annoying was the fact that the signature sheets had to be turned in on Main Grounds, requiring a trek over to Newcomb Hall during business hours and paying for parking just to get on the ballot.

Another frustrating aspect of UBE’s electoral process is its strange rules and lack of ability to enforce them or provide a remedy for candidates. UBE prohibits the use of mailing lists, including email lists, to solicit votes, either by a candidate or any other person on that candidate’s behalf. However, it’s a hard rule to enforce, and it requires candidates to have absolute control over not only themselves and their campaign staff, but also every single enthusiastic supporter who might send an email inadvertently. It’s also hard to craft a remedy for such a violation; is it fair to disqualify a candidate entirely because of an email sent by a staff member? If not, should a certain number of votes be discounted? How many?

The changes to the Constitution do not answer the questions above. However, they do move in the right direction by taking Law School elections out of UBE’s jurisdiction and into the Law School, where we will have more direct say into how these sorts of questions should be answered, and how future issues can be fairly resolved. One issue that still remains to be resolved is how to count Law School votes for school-wide referenda from the Honor Committee or UJC that requires a minimum number of student votes, since most Law Students will not log onto the UBE system to vote.

The new Constitution allows the Election Rules Committee to create a proposed slate of rules for the upcoming election, including various rules, remedies, and requirements to get elected. This proposed slate of rules will be presented to the full SBA for an approval vote. These approved rules will be enforced by the newly created Election Committee, which will run the election itself and handle any issues that the candidates run into. 

The Constitution specifies that the Election Committee shall be comprised of three members, none of whom are allowed to run for an elected position to prevent any conflicts of interest. There shall be one 2L member and two 3L members. To strike the right balance between having an elected official on the Committee and having members who are properly insulated from SBA influence, at least two of the three members must not be current SBA members. The members shall be appointed by the SBA President and confirmed by the SBA.

Upon passage of the new amendments to the Constitution, SBA President A.J. Collins presented his slate of appointments to this year’s Election Committee: Shannon Rice, Alex Haden, and Jennifer Lee. The SBA approved these selections, and now, the Election Rules Committee will have to finish its rules for the elections coming up in February.