Suits filed with Judicial Council, special election to be held this week
Following a number of mistakes made by ASUCD officials during the recent Fall Elections, members of the Thrive slate have filed two complaints with the ASUCD Judicial Council accusing the entire election of being unconstitutional.
The elections kicked off without an official Elections Chair nor any official members of the Elections Committee. Instead, an Emergency Elections Committee was organized just a few weeks before the elections, giving members much less time than usual to organize an election.
After the Elections Chair quit in early October, ASUCD scrambled to put together an emergency Elections Committee made up of ex-officio elected members of the ASUCD Senate. Members of the Thrive slate immediately accused the emergency committee of bias, alleging that members of the committee were members of the BASED slate. In response, Vice President Shreya Deshpande, who ran on the BASED slate, gave up their voting position on the committee. The remaining members of the initial emergency Elections Committee were nonpartisan, according to ASUCD Controller Kevin Rotenkolber.
After voting opened, half of the ballot measures were left off the original electronic ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 12 — the first day students could vote. This error was due to an administrative oversight corrected later that day, according to the emergency Elections Committee. For Alisha Hacker, a third-year political science major and former senator working with the Thrive slate, the damage was already done.
Hacker filed a complaint with the Judicial Council later that day claiming that the election was fraudulent, disenfranchised voters, lacked transparency and was biased in favor of BASED candidates.
Since the proposed constitutional amendments were added to the elections website late, students did not have a full 72 hours to cast their votes, which violates the ASUCD Bylaws — mandating that elections last at least 72 hours.
In an attempt to reach out to affected voters, the Elections Committee emailed individuals asking them to vote on constitutional measures via email, violating the premise of a secret elections ballot.
In addition to having the opportunity to email their votes, students also could re-vote once the measures were posted online, giving students the opportunity to potentially vote twice.
“The anonymity of voters was compromised when an email was sent out regarding amendment votes,” Deshpande said. “It was realized shortly after that voters could have gone back to the website and cast their vote for the amendments without having to email.”
Later that week, following the results of the election, Adam Hatefi, the ASUCD vice president of external affairs, resigned from a position he held on the emergency Elections Committee and commented on his reasons for his resignation via a Facebook post.
“While I believe in the integrity of the Elections Committee and the intentions of its members, I also believe that the process of this election, despite the best efforts and the good intentions of the Executive Office and the Senate, was tainted by multiple potential violations of the Bylaws,” Hatefi wrote.
While only one of the four proposed constitutional amendments passed, the Judicial Council voted to apply a temporary injunction to constitutional measures, stalling any of the amendments from moving forward.
Most recently, it was announced that ASUCD would hold a special election this week, allowing the three constitutional amendments that failed to be voted on again by students Allegations that this election is against the Constitution and Bylaws have also surfaced.
Despite Thrive candidates winning four of the six senate vacancies, Thrive slate leadership, including Hacker, alleged that candidates received direct threats and an unfair distribution of violation points during the campaign. They also criticized the Elections Committee over a perceived lack of transparency, citing the committee’s decision not to release the names of the members to candidates as one example.
Deshpande addressed concerns raised by the Thrive slate and the student body regarding voter disenfranchisement.
“The Executive Office is deeply regretful of the circumstances that has led to feelings of voter disenfranchisement,” Deshpande said. “The student body deserves a fair election and we had tried to do our due diligence within the parameters of our positions to ensure the process was unbiased and transparent.”
Other members of the Thrive slate brought up issues regarding how the election was run.
Newly-elected senator José Benito Martinez III, a second-year political science major, ran for Senate on the Thrive slate. The Elections Committee accused Martinez of elections fraud on Nov. 10 via email. After initially asking if he would be willing to be interviewed, the Elections Committee later retracted their request and claimed they would make the decision regarding the allegation without input from Martinez. All updates regarding his case were conveyed to Martinez via email.
Specifically, the Elections Committee accused Martinez via email of “asking students to open their ballots and telling them how to vote which is considered election fraud under the ASUCD bylaws.”
Martinez asserts that he did ask students to vote for him and told voters where they could vote online, but claims this is not election fraud.
By not allowing Martinez to offer a formal statement in his own defense, it would seem the Elections Committee violated ASUCD Bylaws, according to Martinez. This email, saying he did not need to speak to the committee, was the last correspondence about the investigation that Martinez received.
“I really think they know they’re lying when they sent this email,” Martinez said. “This is just a form of sabotage, trying to distract me from my campaign.”
Martinez also brought up an instance where he was confronted by Rotenkolber in the MU. Martinez alleged that Rotenkolber told him passing out flyers to voters was not permitted in the Memorial Union, to which Martinez asserted that this was, in fact, allowed. Martinez also claimed members of BASED were in the MU passing out flyers.
In response, Rotenkolber did confirm at the time he believed campaigning in the CoHo was not allowed, but he has since recognized his mistake.
In the past, candidates were prohibited from campaigning in the CoHo. In an effort to minimize confusion regarding where students can campaign, Senate Bill #68 was passed in Winter Quarter 2019, authorizing campaigning in the CoHo. Nonetheless, this bill was vetoed by ASUCD President Justin Hurst and his veto was not overridden. The bill did not become law.
Upon being informed by Martinez about other BASED members, Rotenkolber said that he left to address them as well.
“I then walked back into the Coffee House and looked for anyone potentially canvassing as well as anyone I may have recognized as a candidate,” Rotenkolber said via email. “I did in fact see three BASED candidates preparing to campaign in the Coffee House, but had not begun yet. I informed all of them that they were not permitted to campaign in the Coffee House and that if they wanted to campaign they would have to do so outside.”
Martinez was not aware that Rotenkolber brought his same concerns to BASED candidates. Martinez and other members of Thrive, including Hacker, maintain their slate was unfairly targeted for election point violations.
Rotenkolber addressed allegations of election bias.
“While the Office of the Controller is under the ASUCD Executive Office officially, the operations of the two are independent of each other,” Rotenkolber said via email. “I am neither Based, nor Unite, nor Thrive, and I do not believe that anyone currently on the Senate table would claim otherwise.”
Hacker commented further on the lack of leadership involved in the elections process.
“I have a lot of sympathy for the newer people on the [Emergency Elections Committee],” Hacker said. “But at the end of the day, you took this on and you are in this association. These ballot measures not having the fair chance they needed to to potentially pass have major consequences for ASUCD.”
Beyond ballot measures, the Thrive slate had complaints about the entire elections process. Without going into detail, Hacker alleged that Thrive candidates were deliberately excluded from decision-making processes throughout the election.
“I know as someone who was very up close and personal with this election that I have seen countless times they have broken bylaws to advantage certain candidates over others,” Hacker said.
Moving forward, Hurst proposed that an entirely new special election could take place, which would disregard the results of this election. For the six newly-elected senators, this would invalidate their recent wins and force them to run again. This would also impact elections scheduled for Winter Quarter 2019.
Written by: Ally Russell — email@example.com
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated that Senate Bill #68 was passed. The bill was actually vetoed and did not become law. The article has since been updated to reflect this. The Aggie regrets the error.