First-ever executive recall underway after students allege voter fraud

RAUL MORALES / AGGIE

Judicial Council adjusts unconstitutional bylaws

After the 2018 ASUCD Winter Elections, former Senator Andreas Godderis filed five Judicial Council complaints alleging voter fraud and accusing President Michael Gofman, Vice President Shaniah Branson and Unite members of violating ASUCD Bylaws 406(a)(c) and 406(A)(a)(i).

These bylaws state that a “violation of University and/or Student Housing Policy” includes “solicitation in residence halls and prohibited posting/distribution of campaign materials” and outlines the process for addressing voter intimidation and coercion. Witnesses within the filed complaints alleged that a Unite campaign staff member coerced votes for Unite candidates in Redwood Hall of the Tercero dormitories.

Officials who ran with the Unite slate in the Winter Elections and were elected to office include Gofman and Branson as well as Senators Atanas Spasov, Alisha Hacker and Brandon Clemons.

Fourth-year psychology and Spanish double major Becca Nelson, the former Gender and Sexuality Commission chair, attempted to initiate the process to recall an elected official after Godderis’ complaints were dismissed by the Judicial Council on the basis that all “complaints must be filed before the announcement of election results.”

The case Nelson v. ASUCD was filed with the Judicial Council; it challenges “the timeframe for which recall signature petitions can be released by Elections Committee.”

In light of the Judicial Council hearing held over this case, Nelson created a Facebook event page, asking students to attend the meeting to demand the right to an online recall petition.

“Elections Committee denied our right to petition for a recall of Michael Gofman and Shaniah Branson, along with other Unite! slate members complicit in election fraud,” the page stated. ”They are also denying an online petition and expect that we collect 2500+ (8% of the student body according to the ASUCD constitution) signatures ON PAPER PER CANDIDATE. Only 2600 students voted. We have the right to accountability + transparency.”

On April 26, a Judicial Council hearing regarding the recall of Gofman and Branson was held.

Gofman has been accused by former ASUCD officials such as Nelson of transphobia and homophobia. At the March 15 Senate meeting, David Heifitz, the former Business and Finance Commission chair, announced his resignation from his position, saying he would not “serve on the same table as people who are racist, transphobic [or] homophobic” following the election results.

As a senator, Gofman wrote an article defending Milo Yiannopoulos’ right to speak on campus, although he condemns the controversial figure. He was also removed from the ASUCD commission Campus Center for the Environment when he abstained from voting on a resolution urging the creation of an environmental justice course. Gofman said he took “vehement issue” with language that critiqued agricultural companies and definitions of the university as a colonialist power.  

According to Nelson, the allegations of voter coercion sparked the recall efforts. Obstacles arose, however, which served as loopholes to dismiss legal recall efforts such as unavailable petitions and the requirement that complaints must be submitted before the election. Nelson said there was a lack of response and communication when she asked ASUCD for petition forms.

The Judicial Council later found bylaws on the recall process to be unconstitutional in that the petitions must be submitted before the announcement of results.

“As with anything in the Association, the administrative procedures governing recalls are

laid out in the ASUCD Bylaws,” the majority opinion issued in the case Nelson v. ASUCD stated. “However, what would appear to be years of legislative tinkering has led to a mangled recall process that runs perpendicular to the ASUCD Constitution. Two blatantly unconstitutional aspects of the Bylaws include the timeline for initiating a recall, and the threshold for its success.”

The Judicial Council ruling struck several “unconstitutional bylaws” and clarified the recall process.

According to Judicial Council Chair Ryan Gardiner, who issued the majority opinion, the convoluted process and rigidness of submission dates did provide an unfair barrier to recall.

Nelson alleged purposeful miscommunication due to biased ASUCD officials who may be partial to Gofman and Branson. However, the majority opinion stated that Nelson’s “denial of rights occurred as a result of a bureaucratic and administrative process so difficult to navigate that it makes the exercise of one’s rights impossible.”

“On April 17th, 2018, Rebecca Nelson attempted to exercise her constitutionally guaranteed right to initiate a recall election against several ASUCD elected officials,” stated the majority opinion. “The process that ensued was riddled with inconsistency, confusion, miscommunication, and amounted to a denial of the petitioners right to recall. In this particular case, denial of rights did not occur as a result of an individual’s unconstitutional decision making. This case also shed light on the failure of several institutions within the Association, including the Bylaws, our system of elections administration, and the legislative process.”

The recall petition is currently available for pick-up at the Student Government Administrative Office.

In arguing for the option of online voting, Nelson said that requiring in-person petition signatures is technologically archaic and ableist against those immobile. She said that recall petitions should be held to the same regulations as original voting submissions — votes for the Winter Elections were submitted online.

Mahssa Rezaei, the current Elections Committee chair who took over after the previous chair resigned, explained at the hearing why the Elections Committee did not want to provide online petitions. She claimed that “there’s no system for online petition.” According to Rezaei, Creative Media (the committee that created the online voting platforms) is “too busy to code and create an online petition.”

Nelson asked about the possibility of creating a Google form or document.

At the Judicial Council hearing, Rezaei said they tried to go forward with online petitions but were “questioned at the committee by the constitutionality of this whole process.”

Ultimately, Rezaei reiterated the Elections Committee’s reasoning against providing online petitions, but did agree to make physical petitions available to Nelson in accordance with Judicial Affairs’ new ruling. In addition, the Elections Committee must prepare and present official petition forms to the petitioners within two academic days.

“Judicial Council’s ruling indicated that the decision to provide paper or electronic petitions is up to the discretion of the Elections Committee,” Rezai said. “In regards to the Google Form, in addition to the reasons we outlined during the hearing for having physical petitions, the committee also discussed possible issues that may arise with this form of an online petition. We have decided to move forward with providing paper petitions.”

Guidelines of the current petition still require signatures from 2,364 undergraduates, or 8 percent of undergraduate students within four weeks. The recall petition forms are currently available on the ASUCD website on the Elections page.

 

 

Written by: Aaron Liss — campus@theaggie.org

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that printable petitions are unavailable. It has been updated to reflect that printable petitions are available online. This article has also been updated to clarify Michael Gofman’s condemnation of Milo Yiannopoulos.

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