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Thursday, December 09, 2021

Student Government Supreme Court rules to change future ballots, clarify the consequence of a non-vote

Prior to this ruling, not all voters understood what abstention meant for their vote.

The Student Government Supreme Court ruled to require the supervisor of elections to clarify the consequences of a non-vote on a ballot in future elections. 

In a case brought to the Supreme Court Sept. 9, Communist Party president Alfredo Ortiz brought his concern to the judges that the current design of the ballot is misleading and should be altered. Based on court rulings from the last five years, abstaining from a vote on a ballot, or choosing the option to cast a non-vote technically counts as a no towards the constitutional amendments being voted on.

“The voter’s under the impression that their vote will not be counted for or against the constitutional amendment’s ratification,” Ortiz said during a Supreme Court hearing. 

Although voters believe that selecting abstention means they are not necessarily in favor of or against the amendment, the abstention counts against the amendment, Ortiz said.

Agreeing with Ortiz’s argument, the Supreme Court plans to reach out to the supervisor of elections to help create a solution to this issue.

“I definitely understand what petitioner Ortiz is noting, and this is problematic,” Jonathan Nickas, Chief Justice of SG Supreme Court, said during the hearing. “Students, of course, not being educated on exactly what are jurisprudences on the matter absolutely are being presented with a false choice.”

Ortiz said he is proud he won this ruling because past constitutional amendments that did not pass due to the abstention issue, now have an opportunity to be reconsidered. This will now put different issues back on the ballot, he said. 

Along with the issue of abstention, Ortiz presented a second case of concern to the judges regarding students’ ability to campaign outside of an election season on campus. 

Campaigning and campaign activities are considered the same thing, according to an earlier Supreme Court ruling. Because that is the case, neither can be done on campus after an election cycle is over — which Ortiz argued is a violation of First Amendment rights.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to make campaigning and campaign activities basically be the same definition caused a ban that I believe was unintentional,” Ortiz said during the hearing. 

These campaign activities were prohibited outside of an election cycle while campaigning was not, he said. The ban ensures that students cannot promote SG campaigns, ranging from party platforms to constitutional amendments on campus grounds, Ortiz said.

After hearing Ortiz’s case, the Supreme Court justices ruled against his claims. The decision to dismiss the case followed the court’s argument that campaigning efforts would take time from SG participants’ studies and academic obligations. 

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Ortiz disagrees with the decision, citing a violation of constitutional rights.

“We’re supposed to have certain freedom of speech rights as students,” Ortiz said. “I think that the Supreme Court’s decision is too restrictive, especially given how broad the definition of campaigning is.”

Contact Elena Barrera at ebarrera@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @elenabarreraaa.

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Elena Barrera

Elena is a second-year journalism major with a minor in health sciences. She is currently reporting on University news for The Alligator. When she is not writing, Elena loves to work out, go to the beach and spend time with her friends and family


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