Opinion of the Student Court: Rubinstein v. Canvassing Committee
STUDENT COURT OF YESHIVA UNIVERSITY
RUBINSTEIN v. CANVASSING COMMITTEE
No. 1. Argued May 10, 2017—Decided May 14, 2017
The majority vote of the Court favors the Petitioner; the Canvassing Committee is hereby ordered to release the election results.
On April 26, 2017, the undergraduate male students of Yeshiva University voted in the student government election run by the Canvassing Committee to ratify the following amendment: “The Canvassing Committee shall publicize the winners of the elections as soon as possible. Within three days of the election, the Canvassing Committee will disclose the data of regarding numbers of voter turnout, the amount of votes cast per race as well as per candidate on the ballot.”
The amendment in question does not explicitly specify to which election it is referring—and the source of the ambiguity is clear. However, the most simple and plain reading of the text implies that "the elections" refer to concurrent elections, meaning that the amendment should take effect immediately. There is no indication in the language that would indicate a delay until the following year’s election for it to take effect.
The Constitution of the Yeshiva University Undergraduate Student Government [for the Wilf Campus] makes clear that election results are implemented at the time of their vote. Article 1.1.5 states that “Ratification of amendments shall be by three-fifths of votes cast by the Student Body during the Amendment Vote, excluding blanks.” The same is true in all other areas of the election—elected officers assume responsibilities on the date of their election, not the following academic year, as stated in Article 3.6.2, “Official duties of the incoming officers shall be assumed upon graduation day of the outgoing senior class, but incoming officers may begin work from the date of their election.” Thus, the amendment’s application takes effect concurrently, not ex post facto.
Supporting this interpretation, the new amendment allows three days for the Canvassing Committee to release election results. The directive creates a post-election time period long enough for the amendment to take effect. Even without taking effect at the time of the election, it should certainly apply in the days following its ratification.
Moreover, candidates did not know the text or consequences of the amendment in question prior to the election. The candidates, who volunteered their time and energy, placing themselves at the choosing of their peers, agreed to participate in an election with potential consequences of which they were unaware. Importantly, though, the amendment does not overturn any Constitutional law, rule or requirement, to conceal the results; withholding them was merely longstanding practice. With the amendment’s ratification, non-contradictory additions were made that challenged their assumptions. To some, it may seem that releasing the detailed results could cause undue emotional harm and be unfair given that, perhaps, some candidates might not have run had they known about the amendment. However, only four of nineteen candidates who signed affidavits (three chose not to sign) actually “object to and protest” the release of the results. And, after consulting with those four students and the Office of Student Life (“OSL”), it is clear that the myriad of benefits of transparency to the greater Student Body outweigh the candidate's potential concerns.
This trial, however, highlights the irresponsibility of multiple parties regarding the election and amendment process. Constitutional statutes were largely ignored, leading to legal ambiguity, embarrassment, and contention in our University. First and foremost, the Amendment Committee and General Assembly (“GA”) did not create a text whose meaning is clear and understandable for readers and voters—never mind the basic grammatical errors. Post-election testimonial claims that the writer’s intentions were clear at the time of writing are irrelevant. Confidence in Student Government and its Constitution has surely suffered as a result.
Still, the case at hand could have been avoided had the Canvassing Committee publicized the proposed amendments at a reasonable time prior to the election—as opposed to its first publication being on the ballot itself. Article 3.1.6 reads that “The Canvassing Committee shall be responsible for posting a public notification of all election rules and requirements at least two weeks prior to elections.” Additionally, the GA is mandated to “vote upon final proposals for amendments at least one week prior to the General Student Body Amendment Vote” (Article 8.1.3). While the rules and requirements which stood at the time immediately preceding the election were posted publicly, it should have been well within their means to publicize the proposed amendments before the ballot was sent. Their subsequent inaction has caused much of the confusion surrounding this case.
Furthermore, the Canvassing Committee should not have outsourced their duty of running the election to the OSL, a branch of University administration. Consequently, the election results are not in their possession; and the Student Body is at the mercy of parties seemingly outside the bounds of our Constitution. Regardless of this Court’s ruling, the employees of the OSL are within their rights to withhold data and ignore the rightful will of the Student Body. As a result, the independence of our Student Body vis-a-vis the administration has been largely degraded and powers of this Honorable Court have been ridiculed.
The Preamble states that “We, the undergraduate male students of Yeshiva University, in order to further the interests and provide for the general welfare of the Student Body…do hereby establish this Student Government Constitution.” In keeping with our Constitutionally bounding and sacred responsibilities to the Student Body, the Court rules in favor of the Petitioner and orders the release of the election results.