AAS Senators Conduct Constitutional Review
Issue   |   Wed, 09/24/2014 - 02:39

In the wake of controversies surrounding last spring’s presidential elections, a group of Amherst senators is reviewing the Association of Amherst Students constitution and attempting to clarify its gray areas.

Debate over the AAS constitution heated up last May, when the Judiciary Council ruled that Amani Ahmed ’15’s presidential campaign had exceeded the $45 spending limit. Although Ahmed spent only $39.40 on posters she used, she spent an additional $20.35 on posters she did not use. As a result, some students argued that Ahmed had violated the constitution’s definition of campaign expenditures. However, others argued that the definition of campaign expenditures did not include unused materials.

Following this debate, the student body passed a referendum that aimed to clarify the constitution’s definition of campaign expenditures. According to the new constitutional language, campaign expenditures are defined as “any and all expenses including but not limited to any purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, gift of money, or anything of monetary value made by the candidate, on behalf of the candidate, or given to the candidate for the purposes of influencing any election from the campaign’s inception.”

Olivia Pinney ’17 is one of the senators who is reviewing the constitution.

“It became pretty obvious that there were issues that needed to be dealt with in terms of things that were said in the constitution or things that weren’t said and needed to be said,” Pinney said.
Peter Crane ’15, another senator who is currently helping to review the AAS constitution, described the impetus for the constitutional review process.

“I think it was needed as a result of what happened last spring,” Crane said. “Several different legal issues came up [with the election] ... a myriad of issues. But then also taking a step back, there was a general discontent with the AAS and how it was structured, and people really wanted to see a fundamental change.”

Over the summer small groups of senators began reviewing problematic clauses and ambiguities in the constitution.

“It started with a Google Doc that had the constitution in it, and people just started commenting,” Pinney said, “saying, ‘I’ve never liked this part,’ or ‘This part caused this issue in this year,’ and we tried to identify what the existing problems were and talked about whether there were ways to solve them.”

Pinney also said that all students, including non-senators, are allowed look over the constitution and submit proposals for its improvement. However, all of the students working on the review process this summer happened to be senators. This group was organized independently by individual senators, and is not an official AAS committee.

“Different people have taken on different parts [of the constitution]” Pinney said. “For example, Sam Keaser is a 2017E, and he is having difficulty because there weren’t rules for people who were in between classes in the constitution before.”

Pinney, a member of the AAS Elections Committee, has focused particularly on clarifying election-related clauses of the constitution.

“It is a lot of small things,” Pinney said, “like keeping anyone on the Elections Committee from being able to see the results beforehand, which was the issue two years ago. It’s trying to increase political conversation about the election. Just things we think are going to make the process better.”

Crane said that the reviewers are not trying to rush the review process, and the process will take a long time to complete.

“It’s going to be a weeks-long process where the first four-fifths of it or so will not involve up-or-down voting,” Crane said. “We are spending these few weeks just showing the senate [the potential amendments] ... Then after that, we will go to the public and probably do a town hall outreach effort and an online accessible Google Drive or Facebook event where students can post things online and interact with both the constitution and our proposals specifically.”

Crane said that he hopes to receive extensive feedback from the student body after the initial senate hearings, and that some of the issues have multiple solutions so that students can be given an opportunity to participate in decisions.

Tomi Williams ’16, another senator helping with the review process, said that the review board will likely publicize its amendments in the coming week so that they can receive feedback from the student body. After the reviewers have received student feedback, they will submit their final proposals to the AAS for an up-or-down vote.

Although each reviewer focused on a specific part of the constitution, Crane emphasized that the review process involves a collaboration among a large, diverse group of people.

“It’s a team effort,” Crane said. “I am working with Tomi Williams, who is my former opponent.” Williams and Crane ran against each other in last spring’s presidential elections, and are running against each other in this week’s presidential elections as well.

Williams echoed Crane’s sentiment.

“I paid particular attention to issues regarding the referendum, succession plan for members of the Executive Committee and senate projects,” Williams said in an email interview. “But at the end of the day, all of the work done over the summer and so far this fall has been collaborative.”

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