By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 25, 2012
With the November Central Student Government election fast approaching, CSG officials filed a preliminary injunction with the Central Student Judiciary to keep a survey question off the ballot designed to gauge graduate student interest in Rackham Student Government seceding from CSG.
Officially filed Wednesday — just six days before the start of the election, which runs online from Tuesday to Thursday — the injunction argues that RSG has violated parts of its own bylaws and CSG's governing documents in its attempt to put the question on the ballot, in addition to other more general violations.
The non-binding ballot question asks if graduate students would like RSG and other graduate student organizations to look into the possibility of seceding from CSG. However, if such a vote does occur, it’s unlikely the results will immediately be made public.
CSG represents every student on campus, and individual schools and colleges have their own student governments. In September, RSG voted to create an exploratory committee to investigate student interest in graduate student secession from CSG.
At the time, RSG president Michael Benson said an all-graduate student government, which would split the representation of more than 40,000 students on campus into two major student governments, could also result in the splitting of the $7.19 student fee that students pays each semester. Secession could result in CSG losing hundreds of thousands of dollars it typically receives annually.
CSG alleges in its suit that RSG — which submitted the question on Nov. 15, 12 days before the start of the election — did not follow its own rules or CSG's rules for when a ballot question needs to be submitted for inclusion on the ballot.
According to the CSG Compiled Code segments cited in the suit, ballot questions must be submitted 25 days prior to the election and the RSG bylaws cited in the suit state that ballot questions must be sent 14 days prior to an election.
“Twelve days is simply not enough time for adequate campaigning to take place,” the suit states. “Furthermore, this smoke and mirrors approach by the RSG board to place the language on the ballot on its first read, while violating the deadlines, almost amounts to election fraud.”
CSJ chief justice Ryan Gersovitz, a University Law School student, said in an interview Saturday that discussion of the injunction is speculative at this point, but if CSJ isn’t able to render a decision by the time the election commences, the results of the poll could be withheld pending CSJ’s decision.
“We’ll probably talk with the parties and figure out the best thing to do,” Gersovitz said. “I can only speculate, but maybe that would just mean that instead of enjoining (the question) being on the ballot, we would enjoin the release of the results until after so that way we could have the hearing on Tuesday or Wednesday for instance, which would give Rackham a little more time to prepare.”
Gersovitz said withholding the results of a vote would ensure that if CSJ sides with RSG, midterm ballot results would still include responses to the ballot question, rather than removing the question entirely and delaying a vote until next semester. He added that if CSJ sided with CSG, it would most likely state that the question wasn’t “properly” put on the ballot, and RSG would likely alter the question for next semester’s ballot.
Still, Gersovitz stressed that this case has no bearing on whether or not graduate students will able to secede.
“None of these claims are saying that Rackham can’t secede,” Gersovitz said.
CSJ is only scheduled to have a closed-door meeting on Monday, but Gersovitz said the group isn’t planning on scheduling the hearings at that time.
“Part of it will be (dependent on) how prepared the Rackham Student Government is,” Gersovitz said. “If the Rackham Student Government is ready and prepared to go ASAP, then CSJ will as well, but we haven’t gotten a chance to get in touch with them.”
On Saturday night, Benson declined to comment on whether or not RSG would able to respond to the suit by Monday, noting he still has to contact other members of the RSG executive board.
At its Nov. 15 meeting, RSG unanimously approved the inclusion of the secession question on the ballot. RSG also held a vote to endorse voting “yes” on the question, and the resolution to endorse the question was voted down.
“That was defeated, with the argument being as the sponsors of the election we want to keep a neutral approach to the student body as an organization and let the students make up their own minds,” Benson said. “The question itself, the ballot question, was approved unanimously.”
Benson said as of Saturday night that he hasn’t yet received any communication from CSG or CSJ other than an e-mail regarding the injunction to CSJ.
“We’re the respondents in this so I think we’ll certainly hear from CSJ (Sunday) or Monday, but I haven’t received an e-mail from them,” he said.
Though CSG filed the injunction six days before the election, Law School student Jeremy Keeney, chair of the CSG rules committee, said the filing was not done out of malice.
“We could’ve waited until Sunday, but we did have everything ready to go by Wednesday and we wanted to make sure that both the Rackham Student Government and the CSJ had enough time to thoroughly read through all of the complaints and respond to them so that RSG has a fair shot at this,” Keeney said.
He added: “We’re not trying to do anything under the cover of darkness. We want to make sure everyone’s on the same page here and moving forward.”
Gersovitz said this hearing would be different from the court proceedings that lasted for 12 hours, severely delaying the election last March.
Though RSG sent the question 12 days before the start of the election, the election is described as taking place on Nov. 27 through 29 in the suit, meaning that RSG sent the question 14 days before the end of the election. The language in RSG's bylaws cited by the suit does not make clear at what point in the election ballot questions need to be submitted 14 days before. While RSG would still be in violation of the CSG Compiled Code, the suit does concede that “CSG has plenary authority to regulate the petition deadline.”
The suit also alleges other violations unrelated to the question’s filing date. It argues that RSG has parts of it bylaws at odds with the governing documents of CSG and that consistently vacant seats in the CSG assembly set aside for Rackham students is a violation of the University of Michigan Student Body Constitution.
LSA junior Lukas Garske — who had been working on the issue with members of the CSG executive board, including Law School student Jeremy Keeney, Business junior Michael Proppe, the assembly chair, and Rackham representative Patrick O'Mahen — said the injunction was a response to these violations, not to RSG’s intentions.
“We’re not trying to disqualify them on any technicalities here,” Garske said. “There’s multiple violations — they’ve modified their constitution in an attempt to gain supremacy over the all-campus constitution; they’ve failed to collaborate with CSG by failing to fill the Rackham seats on Central Student Government.”
Follow Giacomo Bologna at @giacomo_bologna.