Feb 222009
Authors: Sean Reed

The boneheads are at it again.

Last week, in a 9-7 vote (nine for, seven against), the Associated Students of CSU axed a resolution endorsing Interim CSU President Tony Frank for the permanent job because they failed to get a majority vote in favor.

Sound counterintuitive? That’s because it is.

Thankfully, several sources within ASCSU, including President Taylor Smoot and Sen. Tim Hole of the Liberal Arts College had a simple explanation: There were five abstaining votes.

And as ridiculous as it may sound, that’s why it failed.

The resolution’s failure stems from a confusing and, based on the conversations I had in the ASCSU office, extremely irksome ASCSU Supreme Court Ruling in late 2006 in the case of Schrader v. Conrad.

In the complaint, Sen. Ben Schrader challenged then-Vice President Sadie Conrad’s interpretation that two-thirds of all voting members — present, absent or abstaining — were required to vote in favor of a change to the ASCSU bylaws that had prevented a resolution’s passage.

He complained on the grounds that a quorum — that is, two-thirds — of senators was present at the meeting in the complaint and it is never explicitly mentioned in the ASCSU bylaw that “two-thirds of the entire senate must vote yes for bylaw changing legislation to pass,” according to the court’s opinion.

The Supreme Court, however, sided with Conrad, but on a very shaky argument.

They stated that, within the ASCSU Constitution and its bylaws, “the term ‘senate’ or ‘the senate’ refers exclusively to the entire elected body of the ASCSU Senate, not the portion of senators present at a given meeting,” and, therefore, Conrad was correct to deem the resolution a failure, even though it carried two-thirds of the present voters.

This, of course, is a very loose and overly simplistic reading of the ASCSU Constitution, which, despite what the Supreme Court asserts in the latter half of the opinion, is very clearly answered by the shadow constitution of ASCSU, “Robert’s Rules of Order.”

For the uninitiated, “Robert’s Rules” is a one-size fits all handbook for parliamentary procedure used for many student, local and national organizations.

According to several staffers in the ASCSU office, including Smoot, Hole and Vice President Quinn Girrens, it is the default that ASCSU draws upon when the ASCSU Constitution fails to address a specific issue. However, if a rule from “Robert’s” conflicts with one of the ASCSU document, the ASCSU rule stands.

In this case, the Supreme Court ruled the “Robert’s” rule that states “a two-thirds vote means two-thirds of the votes cast, ignoring blanks which should never be counted,” came into conflict with the ASCSU Constitution’s definition of the senate as the entire elected body.

However, this point is superseded by the same rule, which goes on to clarify that a two-thirds vote “must not be confused with a vote of two-thirds of the members present or two-thirds of the members.”

But, as points go, that’s probably the weakest argument against. The bigger issue is ASCSU’s understanding of what the word quorum means.

A quorum, as defined by “Robert’s Rules” and most people who aren’t idiots, is the minimum number of an assembly present “in order that business can be legally transacted.”

Now, in my reading, business can mean the passage of bills, resolutions, etc. ASCSU, however, seems to have this concept confused.

In their reading, a quorum would have to be absolutely united to conduct business; even one abstainer in a two-thirds vote of a quorum would be enough to prevent legislation, if a full two-thirds of the senate is the bar that must be met.

In this manner, an abstaining vote is now a “no,” making it easier to shirk responsibility in difficult situations when it could be unpopular to go on the record for what is right.

Abstaining votes are not supposed to be used to avoid going on record — they are meant to allow an out for a representative that is underinformed.

Somebody needs to challenge Thursday’s vote, if not for Tony Frank, then for the legitimacy of ASCSU. Hopefully, if challenged, the new Supreme Court will make a more intelligent ruling.

Editorials Editor Sean Reed is a senior political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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