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BSG constitution passes with 76% of votes, low student participation prompts complaints

March 30, 2018

The student body approved changes to the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) constitution on March 5, although low turnout in the vote prompted some concerns about the validity of the voting procedure. A total of 461 students, roughly 25 percent of the student body, participated in the vote. Among voters, 76 percent supported the changes to the constitution.

The vote marks the first major constitutional change to BSG in over a decade. The updated version of the constitution includes a new committee on diversity and inclusion, gender neutral language and new positions to allow first years and sophomores to become leaders on BSG. The constitution now also includes a clause requiring it to be reviewed and updated every two years.

“I really want to push people to think about this macro-change [and] talk about the next 10 years,” said BSG President Irfan Alam ’18. “The constitution that we are looking at was written 10 years ago and hasn’t been changed since then, so that’s 10 years of students at Bowdoin who have been affected by that constitution and existed through that BSG. So that’s the scope that we are talking about. I want to push students to think about how this will affect the broad term.”

However, some students expressed concern about the low participation rate in the constitution vote and BSG’s bylaws. Sophomores Rodger Heidgerken, Alex Banbury and Matt Swiatek attended public comment time at the March 7 BSG meeting to voice their concerns, which focused on the ambiguity of the language regarding how a referendum is passed.

According to the constitution, there are two ways to amend the constitution: by student body action or by assembly action. The assembly refers to voting members of BSG. A referendum by student body action requires one-third of the student body to participate in the vote to be valid, whereas a referendum by assembly action does not.

The changes proposed by BSG to the constitution this spring fell under assembly action and thus only required that the assembly “take appropriate measures to educate the student body about changes proposed,” according to the constitution. There is no minimum participation rate necessary for the vote to be valid.

The concerned students at the BSG meeting accepted this explanation for the validity of the election, but still took issue with this model.

“Why isn’t there a one-third quorum on both executive and student action? That’s confusing to me,” said Heidgerken. “I’m not saying that a one-third quorum is a good amount. Is one-third a good minimum, is one-fourth a good minimum? Even having a quorum of any [amount]. If a vote passes and only five people vote, that’s not valid.”

Alam agreed that greater student participation would have been beneficial.

“There’s like 1,400 people who didn’t even want to click the link and it’s a one question survey. So, yeah, as the president of BSG, I’m frustrated because I obviously think that it’s really important,” Alam said.

Still, he noted that the measure had firm support from the students who did vote.

“If people know it was happening and you really just don’t care enough to vote, then of the 400 people who actually cared enough to learn about and vote on it, yes or no, those are the people who should be able to determine how the vote goes,” he said.

“It would be unconstitutional of us to not listen to the people who voted,” added BSG Vice President for Student Government Affairs Benny Painter ’19. “We can’t redo it because that’s not OK to do—because people did vote and we got four-fifths of the assembly.”

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