Spring Election Results Postponed as ASUCI Investigates Six Election Code Violation Complaints
Though most results of ASUCI’s spring 2016 elections were announced last Tuesday, the outcome of the Student Center/Cross-Cultural Center Referendum as well as the winners of five student government positions – including ASUCI President – are pending after multiple complaints of election code violation were filed to ASUCI’s Elections Commission. The complaints will be reviewed this week by the Elections Commission, and if appealed, could proceed to Judicial Board for the first time in five years.
The Election Commission was made aware of candidates’ violations through complaint forms filed by students until Apr. 17, the Sunday following Elections Week. Applicable candidates were notified of a complaint filed towards them on Apr. 19, and then were contacted again after a ruling was issued by the Elections Commission on Apr. 21.
According to current ASUCI President Parshan Khosravi, the “unprecedented” number of misconduct complaints are the result of a flawed, outdated elections code. He described some election tactics as “gray areas” within vague ASUCI by-laws, which led to disputes over disqualifications for such tactics.
Currently, the Election Commission can act against a candidate violating the ASUCI Elections Code on five levels of Punitive Measures, ranging from a brief statement on the candidate’s violation to complete disqualification of the candidate.
At the beginning of Elections Week, an incident of “laptopping” – allowing students to openly cast votes on laptops at campaign booths – called into question its legality, and whether it violated the terms of “voter intimidation” set forth in ASUCI’s elections code.
After Tej Vuligonda and Tianna Nand, candidates for Administrative Affairs Vice President and Academic Affairs Vice President respectively, were disqualified for hosting an “unofficial polling location,” they and their supporters filed a series of appeals and complaints about the interpretation of elections code, which states that “all acts of voter intimidation are expressly prohibited,” but does not define the terms of “voter intimidation.”
Khosravi explained that the confusion could have been solved by a clearer elections code.
“This year, we had some of the highest number of candidates we’ve ever had,” said Khosravi. “A lot of them haven’t done elections outreach before, and combined with an outdated elections code which contradicts itself, we ended up with a lot of complaints about possible violations…Elections Commission is just following the code to the best of their ability. The code might be vague, but any form of voter intimidation is definitely not allowed.”
In addition to the Administrative Affairs Vice President and Academic Affairs Vice President positions, allegations of misconduct were filed against candidates for the positions of President, ICS Representative and four At-Large Representatives.
While Vuligonda and Nand were disqualified, Pavan Lohia, who ran for President, was issued a level one punitive measure by the Elections Commission for violating University posting policies during his campaign.
The complaints made against the rest of the candidates were dismissed by Elections Commission for either not violating the Elections Code or University rules, or simply because of lack of evidence.
Zeina Mousa, who ran for one of the At-Large Representative positions, as well as Tracy La and Rafael Carrazco, who ran for President and Administrative Affairs Vice President respectively, were issued complaints for posting campaign material in the ASUCI office. On Apr. 21, the Elections Commission dismissed the complaints, stating that “the mentioned candidates were not involved in actively campaigning in the ASUCI office spaces, and there is no evidence of their participation in the campaigning within the ASUCI office.”
While Mousa is pleased that the complaint was dismissed, she agrees that electoral reform is necessary. Mousa received a vague email from the Elections Commissioner notifying her that a complaint was issued against her, and the result of her position would remain pending. For two days she was unsure of how to act.
“I was left in the dark about the complaint for 48 hours since receiving the email, and was unsure of what I was to do regarding my position,” said Mousa. “Only after the complaint was reviewed and dismissed did I finally see what I was accused of. “
If their cases are appealed, Mousa and the other candidates whose complaints have currently been dismissed will face a hearing by the Judicial Board this week.
Several other candidates who had complaints filed against them argue that Elections Commission was not transparent during the hearing process, and accuse them of unjustly disqualifying candidates.
At ASUCI’s legislative council meeting last Tuesday, immediately before election results were set to be released, Nand, one of the disqualified candidates, accused Elections Commission of conducting an “unfair election” in their decisions of who to disqualify and who to pardon.
Nand and two campaign supporters, Alex Silver and Elena Parwood, claimed that they were never even made aware of Nand’s campaign violations until she was disqualified.
“We were unaware that she was put on tentative warning,” said Parwood. “We were never aware that this was the case despite following ASUCI media outlets.”
“Our elections code is complex and…peculiar, and [some rules] seem out of place to me,” said Silver. “I think that [Elections Commission] seeking petty ways to get people disqualified is unethical.”
On these grounds, Nand and her supporters sought to prevent ratification of the election cycle – a step which would have nullified the entire election, and started the election cycle over. The process has never been attempted in UCI history.
“It was a petty, elementary attempt to undermine the dignity of the Elections Commission,” said Khosravi.
Elections Commission agreed instead to temporarily withhold results of the positions in question, and hold evidentiary hearings to further investigate the complaints. As of Sunday, six complaints have been officially dismissed, but Nand and Vuligonda remain disqualified.
If complainants wish to appeal the Commission’s decisions, they have until Monday at 12 p.m. to present an appeal to Judicial Board. A final decision must be reached by this Friday at 4 p.m., at which point final winners of all positions and the outcome of the Student Center/CCC Referendum must be announced.
Khosravi said that rewriting elections code to prevent similar confusion in the future is among ASUCI’s top priorities for the remainder of the year.
“We will be updating elections code as soon as this mess is over,” he said. “It can’t be this vague and contradictory anymore.”