As the Student Senate election season comes to an end, the Student Supreme Court of Wabash College released its first written opinion, focusing on the question of whether graduating seniors were allowed to vote in this week’s student body elections.
For as long as most can remember, graduating seniors have been unable to vote in elections just before leaving Wabash, but the student court clarified the meaning of Article 1, Section 2.1 of the Wabash Constitution, specifically what, “Except for elections held in spring semester of the graduation year,” means.
With a unanimous ruling, the student court ruled that that section means what students have always assumed it means.
“The meaning is clear to the Court: Wabash students that are seniors and will not be returning are not able to vote. Students that are returning are permitted to vote,” wrote Chief Justice Thomas Joven ’24 for the court.
The student court further explained that the purpose of the clause was obviously meant to exclude those who would not be around for the next president’s term from voting in the election of the president. While some students who may leave the College without graduating would retain these voting rights, the text of the con- stitution is not clear enough to resolve that issue.
So the Court suggested the Student Senate resolve this and clarify the language of the Constitution, addressing groups of students like those who plan on transferring away from Wabash and those who take a year off, as they remain enfranchised, but would be excluded from the group the section is clearly meant to address.
This opinion, released at 11:56 p.m. on Sunday, April 9—four minutes before the beginning of election week—represented the first written opinion from the student court. The student court was created by constitutional amendment under the Daniel Bass ’22 administration at the end of the 2021—2022 year.
As its first opinion, this advisory opinion serves as a precedent-setter for the Student Supreme Court on procedure, making it seem that the Supreme Court may hear specific grievances, but they will mainly serve to clarify these questions for the Senate when they come about.
“The significance of this decision is unprecedented,” wrote Associate Justice Seth Kirkpatrick ’24 in his opinion concurring in part in dissenting in part. Beyond his agreement with the decision that graduating seniors are disallowed from voting, Kirkpatrick, the presumed Chief Justice-elect, wrote about the role of the student court as an advisor for the Senate, hoping that the student justices can propose changes to the Constitution like they did in their majority opinion. Kirkpatrick went further than asking the Senate to revise Article 1, Section 2.1, asking the Student Senate to enact a wholesale revision of the Constitution to make it more clear on more issues than just this one.
On Friday, April 14, the supreme court confirmed results of the election, with Cole Bergman ’24 elected student body president and Seth Kirkpatrick elected as chief justice of the student court. However, given that both were running unopposed, the lack of senior voting seems unlikely to have swayed the results.
Beyond the institutional issues at hand, this decision is still controversial, with some students believing that graduating seniors should be able to vote.
“I think seniors should have a say in how we want to leave the campus we spent four years break- ing our backs for,” said Richard ‘Hawk’ Ricketts ’23. “We as seniors have been on campus with the students who would be getting elected the longest, whereas a freshman has not. In addition, we’re also the most experienced with campus culture as well as four previous administrations.”
Ricketts criticized the student court’s decision, which he felt was made without consulting affected seniors.
“They didn’t even give us a chance to push back or have a voice on this at all,” Ricketts said. “If they had started this dialogue with seniors a week prior, which still would’ve been a little early, and by the end of things still came to the conclusion seniors can’t vote, I wouldn’t be as mad. But, it really feels like they were banking on senioritis preventing us from caring or pushing back on the choice, which is exactly what happened.”
While agreeing on the merits of the decision, Student Body President Bryce McCullough ’23 expressed his wish that every student could vote in these elections.
“I personally think seniors should be allowed to vote,” said McCullough. “We care a lot about the future of Wabash and are knowledgeable about how things work here. Seniors should have a say in future student leadership. However, the court’s ruling is in line with the intention of the clause in the constitution adopted last year that prohibits the graduating class from voting. The language itself, though, is extremely vague and should have been clearer. I would strongly encourage a future constitutional amendment to enfranchise as many Wabash men in the election was we can.”
Other seniors, though, are less bothered by the opinion and don’t seem to think they need to be allowed to vote.
“It seems that people who will be leaving Wabash before the next president gets into office shouldn’t have a say,” said Carson Price ’23. “The people who are going to be spending their time at the institution and dealing with the ramifications of the changes should have the power.”