ASUCR calls emergency meeting to discuss possible re-elections

Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER
Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER

An emergency meeting was called on Sunday, April 24 at 8 p.m. in the ASUCR senate chambers to discuss the judicial opinion that was delivered on the previous Friday, April 22, when the ASUCR judicial council chose not to validate the elections results. Three justices of the ASUCR judicial branch, ASUCR executive cabinet (ECAB) members, candidates and students met to discuss the matter.

During public comment, candidates and students expressed their concerns over judicial branch’s suggestion that a second elections cycle be held to ensure a “fair and democratic process.” ECAB members and candidates shared concerns regarding time constraints, practicality, candidates’ mental health during a second campaign, possible low voter turnout and available finances to fund mandatory polling sites and online servers, which may cost around $4,000.

Though a majority of the opinions voiced during public forum were against another election cycle, independent ASUCR presidential candidate  Arturo Gomez, welcomed a second elections cycle and critiqued the legalization of laptopping, stating, “I’ll call it what it is: Laptopping is cheating. Whether or not it’s legal, that’s a different story. Legalizing the problem didn’t really solve the problem; it exacerbated it. The fact that judicial council had to step in … really underlines the severity of this issue.”

According to the justices, cases brought against parties and individual candidates for campaign violations as well as reported incidents and the controversial campaigning tactic of laptopping which was stricken out of the elections bylaws this year by the senate were indicative of “an unfair environment,” were “damaging towards ASUCR elections and the legitimacy of ASUCR in general” and were inconsistent with the elections code preamble and bylaws. Justice Jo Gbujama cited these issues, which were mentioned in the majority opinion, during his presentation as his reasoning for choosing not to sign off on the elections results.

Vice President of External Affairs Summer Shafer asked Gbujama why individuals who harassed students could not be held accountable as opposed to scrapping the entire election and why it wasn’t addressed when it happened as opposed to after elections.

Gbujama stated that the judicial council addressed the issues in as timely of a manner as they could. Addressing Shafer’s question of holding individuals accountable, Gbujama referenced a case brought before the judicial branch where a student denounced a [YOUR]Side candidate for laptopping as it was happening and the candidate responded, “You’re just one voice. Your opinion doesn’t matter.” Gbujama continued by saying that because current rules allow laptopping, the case had to be dismissed.

“It’s one thing to talk about the individuals but the system as a whole was what was messed up to start with so we couldn’t hold people accountable under a messed up system,” explained Gbujama. The stipulations for a second elections included no new candidates or parties and mandatory officially sponsored polling stations as the only way to vote. He later stated that it wasn’t in the judicial branch’s jurisdiction to rule on issues of ethical violations or harassment.

Hayden Jackson continues discussion

When Justice Hayden Jackson took to the podium, he addressed previous questions regarding the release time of the judicial opinion. He alleged that concerns about legalizing laptopping were brought up an hour before it went to senate. He also referenced a meeting that took place the first few days that reports of misconduct starting coming in between the elections director, elections committee and the judicial council where an unnamed member of the committee, as Jackson explained, made several justices feel “that our concerns were ridiculous.”

Jackson also mentioned that guidelines for laptopping were sent out on a Wednesday morning and the justices could not retroactively hold individuals accountable for events that happened on the previous Monday and Tuesday when many of the reports came in. “This is the only solution to uphold our constitutional responsibility to maintain the highest interests of students to start fresh and ensure that elections are fair and not coercive this time,” expressed Jackson. Later in the meeting Jackson softened his tone and said that he was open to considering ECAB members concerns and suggestions regarding re-elections.

Addressing concerns that a second election could be less democratic due to potentially lowering voter turnout and jeopardizing referendums, Jackson explained, “Unfortunately we’re going to have lower turnout. I wish it was different but that’s just the fact. However, it’s very undemocratic to have coercive conditions in the elections that judicial cannot do anything about, not hold candidates accountable for any of that and then to certify those elections results and say, ‘Yes, this is the voice of the student body.’ It’s really a tough sell.”

Vice President of Internal Affairs Michael Ervin emphasized his desire to reach common ground and argued that the judicial council was stepping out of its scope of power by requiring rules that would ban laptopping for the potential second elections. He cited Article 7 Section A of the ASUCR Constitution which states that the senate sets all election procedures. “Your intention is fine … I’ll even concede the right to call for a re-election. However, it is also pointed out … that the regulations for a new re-election would be determined by senate,” Ervin said.

Jackson agreed that that judicial council isn’t able to go against the laptopping policy instituted by the senate; however, he expressed that the judicial council was added to the section of the elections bylaws that concerns itself with the certification of election results for a reason, saying, “If it was supposed to be just a rubber stamp signature it would be in there … I really think that that was the intent of the bylaw … for judicial to verify and certify the elections results to make sure the numbers were correct and to make sure that we weren’t having unfair elections.”  

ECAB debates another elections cycle

Elections Director Melina Reyes asked if the justices would be open to considering moving forward with the elections after a survey was conducted by Reyes and sent out to students and candidates on whether they’d like to hold another election. Jackson answered in the affirmative. Vice Chief Justice Daniel Ojo, who was the last justice to speak at the meeting, interjected and said that the specifics cannot be decided right now but he would also agree as long as students fully understand why the results were not verified.

Executive Vice President Taylor Valmores clarified his thoughts on re-elections, expressing, “We’re arguing that … the judicial council shall maintain highest interests of the students, again, I don’t think this re-election does that.” He also stated that ASUCR does not have the funds to operate another elections as they over budgeted by around $28,000 and it would require using reserve funds.

“You did mention the reserves,” said Jackson, ”Elections are pretty much … a top priority. We can’t operate without having elections; we wouldn’t have an ASUCR next year. If that’s the only way to proceed, I would think that was definitely something we would need to pull out of reserves for.” When asked by Shafi Karim, vice president of finance and ASUCR presidential candidate when it was that elections would be held, Jackson answered, “As soon as possible.”

Ojo, opened his remarks by stating, “I hope that nobody sees this as an attack on their party, candidacy or positions. I would also like to continue with trying to find a solution … Those recommendations that you see aren’t legislation. They are just the things that we would like to see for us to verify certain parts of the results. It is up to the senate … As someone had mentioned, this is not judicial activism at all. We are not taking any political stance on it …So there’s no personal influence in this decision at all.”

Ojo directed a question to Karim on how they would be able to pull money out of the reserves. “According to current bylaws you couldn’t do it … We talked (earlier this year) to our financial operating manager about taking money out of the reserves and she said that we cannot … You would have to change the bylaws … The last time we had taken it out of the reserve was $79,000 to build ASUCR’s new offices,“ replied Karim.

Jackson interjected and cited section 15 of the ASUCR finance bylaws which state, ”Unanticipated, one-time expenses that are necessary and vital to the operation of the organization may be allocated with a two-thirds vote of the Finance Committee and a two-thirds vote of the Senate.” Hayden continued, “Forgive me, but I don’t see how the bylaws don’t allow currently for something to be as important, necessary and vital to the organization be taken out of the reserve.”

Karim responded, “Well my point is, our finance hearing would be Friday … The timing is not sufficient enough to make all those changes… If judicial were to call for re-election, I’d have suggested them to do it sooner … than a week after election.”

“Whatever the senate or finance can do … needs to be done,” responded Ojo. “You don’t have to have your finance hearing on Friday, have it on Monday. There is a way through the bylaw. There is at least $79,000 … So that finance argument we can throw away for now. We can listen to the student interest argument … We feel like this cannot keep happening. The senate needs to see that laptopping is an issue and they need to write legislation to handle it.”

Shafer asked Ojo if there was any other solutions they might have to reach the 20 percent voter turnout needed to legitimize elections as well as pass referendums, which may disadvantaged in a re-election. Ojo expressed his personal recommendations to use volunteer hours as an incentive to garner volunteers and to have more than one polling site, suggesting the Bell Tower, the University Village, the Student Recreation Center and campus dorms.

Is it feasible?

Reyes responded to his suggestions, saying, “It’s not only impractical in that I would require dozens of students for every single hour of the polling day … It’s completely impossible to be able to coordinate … to make it feasible to get that 20 percent turnout. I can guarantee that … just won’t work … Even with that incentive (of volunteer hours), I’m still not pulling in enough students as volunteers.” She also said it’s difficult for one justice to use time constraints as justification for why the judicial decision wasn’t reached earlier and then later state that finance committee needs to meet earlier than Friday.

Reyes also walked through the hypothetical timeline for the re-elections which would potentially take place during week seven, given the time needed for the proper elections procedures to take place. “The timeline is extending elections well beyond the point of what they should service … On top of the fact that it completely eliminates the point of why there was only a three-week election season which was to allow students to be students first.” Referencing the elections code bylaw that says new elections must take place within 15 days of the polls closing, Reyes asked, “Considering that (week 7) is the earliest feasible deadline, how are we even able to make that work constitutionally?”

Responding, Ojo stated, “I think that judicial council … we’ve used the greatest efforts to meet as conveniently as possible … We know what it takes to meet. It’s your due diligence as your position to make sure that AS functions right.” Addressing deadlines, he said,  “We’re willing to sit down and hash those out with you. We think that it is possible so we’re willing to work with you on that.”

No decision on whether to hold a second elections was reached by the end of the meeting. The ASUCR senate will meet Wednesday, April 27, to further discuss issues regarding possible re-elections.

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