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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Guest Column: The Spring 2022 ASUCD Presidential Election will be uncontested thanks to your student government

By STEPHEN FUJIMOTO — ssfujimoto@ucdavis.edu

This quarter, like many spring quarters preceding it, elections for the president and internal vice president of ASUCD are scheduled to be held. However, unlike recent elections, this race will be uncontested — and it is clear to me that our elected student leaders are unfortunately at fault.

While many students here on campus are unaware of what each student government role does, both the president and internal vice president have many significant responsibilities and opportunities. The ASUCD president is able to veto legislation passed by the ASUCD Senate, has a vote on COSAF (an advisory body on student fees) and, notably, is the only voting student in the Academic Senate, the faculty body making decisions about course, academic instruction and policies that affect students. The ASUCD internal vice president leads the ASUCD Senate (holding a vote in the event of a tie) and chairs the Personnel Committee, allowing them to influence decisions about the ASUCD workplace and pay that affect hundreds of ASUCD student workers and volunteers. Both positions also have serial meetings with Chancellor Gary May and top administrators as well as being part of the team that crafts the annual ASUCD budget of around $15 million, allocating where revenue from student fees should go. 

Both roles are given these responsibilities and opportunities to speak for students on the premise that they are elected by their fellow students and that they are who the majority of students want in these roles. These are not roles students should win by default or because of procedural technicalities. But that is exactly what is happening this year.
Currently, the race for president and internal vice president takes place as follows. Two UC Davis students form a ticket, one being a candidate for president, the other for internal vice president. They then must gather 400 signatures from the student body to get on the ballot. This number was increased from 250 signatures by SB#17, an amendment to the Bylaws that was passed by the Senate during Fall 2021. It is important to note that signatures are not equivalent to votes, as a signature is just an indication the signee wants the candidate on the ballot. After all, petitions must be signed toward the beginning of the election season, before students are able to fully consider platforms, watch candidate debates and ask candidates questions about their stances. 

This year, three tickets filed to run but only one was able to meet the signature requirement imposed by ASUCD Senate. We are not looking at a case where only one candidate was interested in running and therefore will win by default; instead, candidates were boxed out of running due to gatekeeping by a student government that has maintained this signature cap. Despite discussion amongst elected leaders about what the number of necessary signatures and the amount of time to collect them should be, the current policy that they settled on has brought us here. 

In one salient example of this, the Elections Committee unilaterally pushed back a deadline to submit a slate declaration to the Friday of Week 4 in direct violation of ASUCD Bylaws (see: Section 1408(10) which says that the Elections Committee must be notified “no later than the last business day of the third week in the quarter when the election is held” about all members running on a slate), a move that benefited those who formed a slate. However, when it came to the deadline for petition signatures, the Election Committee did not find it in themselves to violate the bylaws again and push back the deadline. Such a move would have provided more time to collect signatures and possibly resulted in more candidates getting on the ballot. I find it unsurprising, then, that the ticket that qualified was formed by two current student government members who also formed a slate. 

More importantly, there are steps ASUCD can currently take towards preventing the election for the next president and internal vice president being uncontested. If the current candidates for president and vice president care more about a competitive election than securing a position, they could choose to withdraw themselves from the race. In an absence of candidates for president and internal vice president, the ASUCD Senate could then call a Special Election, in which there can be multiple candidates running for these positions.

As of right now though, thanks to the choices made by our elected student leaders, our next president will have come to the position just because they were able to collect 400 signatures. They will be able to talk with faculty and administrators about important issues such as academic accommodations and student fees on behalf of students who were unable to compare their stances with other candidates. How can such a leader claim they speak for students if students were not given an alternative to vote for? Student representatives gain their mandate to speak for the body from votes, not signatures. 

As a student and voter, it is my firm conviction that I and my fellow students should have the opportunity to consider all interested candidates and choose which candidate will best represent our individual views and priorities. That choice does not belong to elected leaders but the people they claim to represent. I hope ASUCD student government will either recognize that or stop claiming they speak on behalf of students. 

Written by: Stephen Fujimoto — ssfujimoto@ucdavis.edu

Stephen Fujimoto is a third-year cognitive science and statistics double major and serves as the chair of the ASUCD Research and Data Committee. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.

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