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Friday, September 24, 2021

Column: Beergate: The truth

Sandbox Politico

Think back to last quarter. The sun was still shining, birds were chirping and a man was exposing himself to students in the Arboretum. But amidst the normal quarterly fracas you may recall the ASUCD elections scandal; this publication covered it at length.

One minute Cerberus himself was threatening the maws of hell at the Senate, and the next moment everything was fine with ASUCD resuming business as usual. What happened?

I’ll spare you the procedural explanation; it would bore most of you (if you do care to know, feel free to ask and we can be fat friends frolicking through fields of policy together).

Here’s the fun part though. At the time, then-Senator Elect Alyson Sagala was sued via the Elections Committee for failing to report an expenditure. The item of interest: booze. The complaint alleged Sagala and her SMART cohorts had thrown a party linked to their campaign and had purchased alcohol for the event which subsequently did not appear as an expenditure.

Let’s dismiss the merits or lack thereof of the complaint. Never mind the plaintiff could have been sued for the exact same offense, never mind the plaintiff was himself underage and let’s not even consider how difficult it is to establish a clear purpose for a party … hmm how would that trial go? Judge: And why did you have this raucous social gathering? SMART: Uhh I dunno, me and my friends were bored and finals were coming up. Judge: Guilty! Alas the fun police strike again.

Back to our narrative, however.

With this complaint lodged, Sagala was pushed over three election violation points, formally disqualified by the Elections Committee, and the gates of Hades swung open. People were outraged, rightfully so. Sagala was the second-highest vote-getter in the election and now she and her entire electoral base were being silenced for something as petty as an expenditure form.

Let’s not stop there; remember she had three violation points. One of the other two was awarded because Sagala was seen campaigning within 100 feet of a polling station. In fact she was documented approximately 60 feet away, talking to a student and “gesturing at a polling station.” If you’re rolling your eyes at these charges, then we’re on the same page.

Internal Affairs Commission Chair Sergio Cano (great guy, if you meet him ask him to tell you his favorite bedtime story called the ASUCD Bylaws) and myself set about trying to fix this mess; here’s why.

Think about how this whole fiasco would look in a real court of law — you know, with a judge, and little jury people, and everything. Let’s return to our hypothetical courtroom. Judge: So this girl was ousted from an elected seat and an apparently fair and neutral democratic process was overturned, disenfranchising hundreds of undergraduate students. Attorney: That’s correct. Judge: And why was this done? Attorney: Well you see, she, like, stood within an imaginary circle, talked to someone, and pointed at a table. Judge: … Are you serious?

You see, these charges wouldn’t hold up, and historically they haven’t. In 2001 ASUCI, UC Irvine’s student government, was sued by a disqualified elections candidate. The school lost. The court ruled the election regulations constituted a restriction of the candidate’s freedom of speech and could not meet the legal threshold of strict scrutiny (Welker v. Cicerone).

True, a similar case went the other way in Montana in which the student government’s regulations were upheld, but it still resulted in a messy and expensive legal battle. Essentially, if you don’t want your student fees being used to defend your government in open court, don’t disqualify candidates flippantly.

So what do we take away from this experience? Is the ASUCD Elections Committee completely powerless and ineffective?

Not exactly, but they’re not as powerful as you’d expect. They need to be thought of less as police and more as arbitrators placed to try and keep things civil and wag a finger when a naughty candidate does something wrong. Does this then mean candidates can break rules with impunity? Not quite. Certain offenses are against University Codes which can pass muster in federal court.

Though it was not the case with Sagala, the student body should think twice about voting for a candidate who has knowingly broken the rules of a fair electoral process to gain a competitive advantage. Such unethical people should never have to be disqualified, they should never have been elected in the first place.

JUSTIN GOSS doesn’t always report his expenditures, but when he does they’re definitely not for Dos Equis. If you would like to discuss his preferences regarding alcoholic beverages you may do so at jjgoss@ucdavis.edu.

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