By: Sarah Ben-Nun  | 

Wilf Student Candidates Struggle to Reach Required Signature Count

Candidates running for Wilf student government positions for the 2020-2021 academic year are facing the unprecedented challenge of virtually collecting student signatures to ensure their names appear on the voting ballots for the upcoming elections on May 7. This difficulty was introduced as all university functions shifted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it was further exacerbated after the Wilf Student Court ruled that the Wilf General Assembly’s (GA) proposed amendment to lower candidates’ required signature count was “null and void,” citing constitutional violations.

Ordinarily, the GA — whose voting members are the presidents of the Yeshiva Student Union (YSU), the Yeshiva College Student Association (YCSA), the Syms Student Council (SYMSSC), the Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY) and the Senior co-chair of the Student Life Committee — forms an Amendments Committee each semester that holds a Constitutional Amendments Convention to hear amendment proposals. The GA then votes on the proposed amendments, and if the proposals receive a majority vote, they are sent to the student body. Finally, once a semester, a General Student Body Amendment Vote is held, and amendments will pass if they receive three-fifths of the student body votes. 

On April 2, the GA, in a 3-1 vote, proposed and passed an amendment to lower candidates’ required number of signatures from 500 or 33 percent of the students they represent to 50 or 5 percent of the students they represent; it was then handed to the Wilf student body for a final vote. On April 5, the Wilf Student Court, prompted by the Canvassing Committee’s petition to evaluate the amendment, rejected the GA’s proposal completely. 

According to the student court’s ruling, the amendment violates two clauses in the Constitution. Article XIII, Section 1(2) identifies the proper procedure for proposing amendments: the Constitutional Amendments Convention that should be convened each semester to raise potential amendments and changes to the Constitution. “No such convention took place,” the Court noted in their decision, which was emailed to the Wilf student body on April 5. Additionally, Section 1(4) of the same article explains that proposed amendments are voted on by a General Student Body Amendment Votes, as mentioned earlier. The fall’s vote should take place within the two weeks before Reading Week, while the spring’s should be “incorporated into the General Election.” This, the court explained in their decision, does not allow for amendments to be “voted upon and ratified” before the Spring General Election, which is what happened with the proposed amendment. 

As of April 13, 33 Wilf students are running for 19 different government positions. YSU President Zachary Greenberg (SSSB ‘21) defended the GA’s amendment proposal, reasoning that virtually gathering signatures could “potentially [be] a roadblock for serious candidates to get on the ballot.” Candidates have since alternated to collecting signatures through texting, WhatsApp group messages, Canvas mail and Facebook posts. Additionally, the Canvassing Committee has sent out several emails encouraging Wilf students to electronically sign petitions in support of candidates who still need votes. 

Other candidates for student government share Greenberg’s sentiment. Yeshiva College Student Association (YCSA) presidential-candidate Josh Leichter (YC ‘21) said the GA’s amendment was a “reasonable request, given everything that has been going on lately,” referring to YU’s campus closure due to coronavirus. 

“When I gathered signatures in person [to be elected Freshman Representative] it took only a day or two to get all the signatures I needed,” Baruch Lerman (YC ’23) explained. “[It’s] taken me at least two weeks just to reach the right amount of people.” Lerman is running for SOY’s Isaac Breuer College (IBC) Representative position, and it took him 17 days, from April 6 to 23, to gather his required 63 signatures. 

Michael Stark (SSSB ‘22) previously ran for a student government position and similarly found it easier to speak with people in-person when asking for their signatures. “Now,” Stark contrasted, “I have to bother people via text, messenger, and spamming the YU Facebook groups to potentially get people to sign.” 

Signatures collected online carry a different kind of weight with candidates. Some, though they are grateful for the signatures, lament the loss of human connection in obtaining them. Benji Halpern (SSSB ‘21), who’s running for YSU’s Senior Representative position, questioned, “What’s the point of an endorsement if I barely know the candidate, let alone can have a conversation face to face with them?” Leichter agreed with Halpern, saying “if someone receives a text message saying that they should vote for someone, that human closeness gets lost in translation.” 

Others view it in the opposite manner. Students like Lerman think “any candidate who has gotten 1/3 of their hopeful constituency to vote for them is surely well respected by the student body they wish to represent.”

“I had hoped that the Student Court, Canvassing Committee, and General Assembly (which I’m a part of) could have worked together to get this ‘emergency’ Amendment passed to prevent the hassle of the signature process,” said Greenberg. “I had hoped that just as our university and the world have been adjusting to this online period, so would the Student Court and Canvassing Committee.”

Though he wished the amendment could have been approved, Lerman said he understood why it could not. “The court didn’t really have a choice in rejecting the amendment –– the way it was passed was blatantly unconstitutional.”

In their decision, the court concluded, “This Court believes that the Student Body will rise to the occasion and help its peers who wish to lead this university secure the proper number of signatures.” 

Photo Caption: On April 7, the Amendments Committee convened on Zoom to discuss amendment proposals. 
Photo Credit: Zachary Greenberg