When the results of the ASUC elections referendums came up on the screen of Wheeler Auditorium last Friday, they revealed results the Graduate Assembly, or GA, is all too familiar with. The GA fee had failed.
To chair of the GA’s Governance Workgroup and GA fee primary proponent José Marrero Rosado, however, this defeat was no surprise. In fact, he and the rest of the Graduate Assembly had been anticipating it for months.
“Of course, these are not the results we wanted,” Marrero Rosado said. “In terms of what that means for the GA, it just highlights once again our struggle of navigating ASUC elections.”
In the 2020 ASUC elections, 2,294 graduate students turned out to vote for the graduate independence referendum. The referendum was an attempt to gauge public opinion about a potential separation of the GA from the ASUC and was met with overwhelming support. Of those who voted, 83.61% voted yes, 2.27% voted no and 14.12% abstained.
To further support this call for independence, the GA put forth a fee ballot measure for the 2021 ASUC elections. The $33 fee would have exempted graduate students from paying the ASUC’s $27.50 student fee, with 30% to be returned as financial aid.
Much like this year, however, the GA fee did not pass in 2021, garnering only 1,522 votes, or about 13% of graduate students. At the time, referendums could only be passed if 20% of eligible students voted.
“For the years we have disaggregated grad-undergrad turnout data, it is clear that graduate students do not, and have never, participated in ASUC Elections at a rate comparable to undergrads,” said Emily Mullin, the GA rules officer, in an email. “Something must change.”
With that in mind, the GA set out to find other ways to pass the fee, Marrero Rosado said. Eventually, the GA assembled a list of demands, including lowering the graduate student voter threshold, increasing promotion of the election to graduate students and running a special election specifically for graduate students.
According to Rosado, members of the GA met with ASUC Senator Jason Dones who he named as “the only person who tried to meet some of (the GA’s) demands.” Dones did not respond to a request to comment as of press time.
Of the three, only efforts to decrease the voter threshold were successful.
“The Elections Council as a whole and the Chancellor approved a lowering of the voter threshold,” said ASUC Elections Council chair Ananya Narayanan in an email. “The decision we came to was to decrease the threshold to 14%.”
The threshold was determined using past data on graduate and professional student voter turnout to ensure the lowered threshold would not compromise the validity of the results.
However, although the total number of voters exceeded previous years’ voter turnout, the threshold does not include abstentions, putting the total 2022 voter percentage at 12%. The fee failed, yet again.
Additionally, graduate students sometimes don’t even know about the ASUC, not to mention that they can participate in the elections, Mullin noted. As a result, the GA also tried to emphasize visibility and neutrality in the promotion of ASUC elections.
“The fact of the matter is that ASUC Elections, as they are structured now (e.g. called just that, ‘ASUC Elections’) disincentivize graduate student participation,” Mullin said in an email. “It is only natural that a graduate student might be confused as to why they should participate in something called ‘ASUC Elections.’ ”
According to Marrero Rosado, he was told that the election would be promoted to graduate students and that such promotion would use more neutral language to indicate that the election was for everyone.
The final tactic the GA tried to employ was to hold its own special election, an effort that was approved by 97% of the GA delegates despite Marrero Rosado’s acknowledgment that it would be difficult.
With GA approval, Rosado submitted a resolution calling for a special election to the ASUC. Typically, special elections must be approved by two-thirds of the senate, followed by the Elections Council. However, the GA’s proposal never made it to the senate floor; it was “tabled indefinitely” at a Governance and Internal Affairs Committee meeting, according to Marrero Rosado.
According to both Marrero Rosado and ASUC Senator Elif Sensurucu, the general consensus among senators was that it would be too difficult to organize.
Though difficult to hear, Rosado said that the GA will continue to pursue alternate options for graduate student issues and independence from the ASUC.
“We work years and years trying to improve the relations between the GA and the ASUC and we just keep hearing the same thing over and over: ‘That was last year’s Senate,’ ” Marrero Rosado said. “We know graduate students do not feel represented by the ASUC. … We need to pursue independence.”