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UC No Longer Able to Overturn Binding Referenda

Undergraduate Council President Yasmin Z. Sachee ‘18 and Vice-President Cameron K. Khansarinia ‘18 lead the Council’s general meeting on Sunday evening.
Undergraduate Council President Yasmin Z. Sachee ‘18 and Vice-President Cameron K. Khansarinia ‘18 lead the Council’s general meeting on Sunday evening. By Soumyaa Mazumder
By Andrew J. Zucker, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: October 26, 2017 at 7:28 p.m.

The Undergraduate Council will no longer be able to overturn binding referenda following changes to the body’s governing documents made during the Council’s general meeting on Sunday night.

To be considered binding, UC referenda need to be approved by at least half of the voting population. In the past binding referenda could be overturned by a three-quarters vote of Council members.

In recent years, a number of referenda have appeared on the UC’s presidential ballot each November. Last year, for example, one referendum question asked if “Harvard College should repeal the proposed sanctions on unrecognized single-gendered organizations.” The sanctions prohibit undergraduate members of single-gender social groups from holding campus leadership positions and certain academic fellowships.

In the past, some referenda have been more lighthearted in nature, such as one last year that proposed making the “Harvard Turkey” the University’s official mascot.

However, because the elections are typically characterized by low voter turnout, no referenda in recent years have been binding.

On Sunday, UC Rules Committee Chair Evan M. Bonsall ’19 presented an amendment to the Council’s constitution that would prevent the possibility of overturning binding referenda. Bonsall said low voter turnout makes passing binding referenda rare in the first place.

“We almost never get a majority of students to vote in the November elections,” he said. “This makes it virtually impossible for any referenda to ever become binding, because a majority of students almost never vote.”

Bonsall also noted that the amount of signatures for a referendum to appear on the ballot requires hundreds of more signatures than a presidential ticket to get on the ballot.

After UC Vice President Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18 asked about the the issue of less serious referenda and whether or not this amendment would have changed the results in recent elections, Bonsall said no referenda would have been changed.

“It wouldn’t change the results from any of the referenda votes from the last several years,” he said. “I think we need to trust the students in order to be responsible.”

“This does not make it necessarily like super easy to get a bunch of frivolous referenda to pass,” he added.

The amendment passed.

Also at the meeting, the Council voted to fund a new ping pong table in Apley Court. Now that the UC agreed to fund the table, Apley Court Representative Wilfried J. Zibell ’21 said there are plans to host a ping pong tournament in the building.

The Council also spoke to Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging co-chairs Meredith L. Weenick and Government professor Danielle S. Allen in an off-the-record session at the beginning of the meeting.

—Staff writer Andrew J. Zucker can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJZucker.

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