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Year in Review: GPSF attempted to split from student government

After referendums failed to pass in two elections, administrators are stepping in to resolve tension between the Graduate and Professional Student Federation and student government that has been growing over the past year. 

“I firmly believe that representation is best when it occurs locally, and so the more individuals you have that can represent their specific needs and constituencies, the better government I think we will see here at Carolina,” GPSF President Dylan Russell said in January. 

Students were able to vote on two referendums in February 2016 and October 2016 — “Two For Two,” which was proposed by GPSF to split the two groups, and “Better Together,” which was proposed by Student Congress to keep the groups together.

Neither gained enough votes to pass. “Two For Two” fell short of passing by 3 percentage points in the February vote and by 41 votes in the October vote

Members of student government have expressed concerns over the split, saying it is unclear how it would impact representation on the Board of Trustees and it could harm GPSF’s voice in student government decisions. 

“All of the plans that have been proposed muddy the waters on where we stand financially and that scares me,” David Joyner, former Speaker of Student Congress, said in January. 

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp said he will be meeting with Student Body President Bradley Opere, current Speaker of Student Congress Cole Simons and Russell to find a solution. 

“The truth of the matter is, we let this go all the way to the end, being the referendum that occurred last year out of respect for the students' self-governance process,” Crisp said in December. 

In the spring 2016 election on Feb. 9, neither referendum passed in an instant runoff vote. Students were able to rank the two referendums and a no-change option in order of preference, from 1 to 3. The referendum with the lowest number of votes was disqualified and the votes were redistributed to the voter’s second choice. 

Days after the February vote, Dylan Russell filed a lawsuit with the UNC Student Body Supreme Court against the Board of Elections over the interpretation of the instant runoff vote. He said the no-change option had the least votes, and should have been eliminated, which meant the “Two For Two” option would have passed. 

In April, the UNC Supreme Court agreed with Russell, allowing a revote in the fall 2016 election on the referendums separately to avoid confusion. 

Before the fall referendum vote, Russell asked to lower the threshold needed to pass the “Two for Two” to just over 50 percent of the vote, instead of two-thirds, and to reorganize the ballot to make it clearer to voters. 

“You know grad students only make up one-third of this University’s population,” Russell said in October. “So to ask that we have a two-thirds threshold for something that mainly benefits graduate and professional students, I think that’s a lot to ask.” 

Simons denied the requests, saying three days before the election was not have enough time to discuss and implement the changes.

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