During the week preceding and including Undergraduate Students Association Council election week, Bruin Walk turns into a special sort of hell. A space generally consisting of pushy club members trying to recruit fresh faces or sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Porto’s pastries is replaced by a battlefield of party members seemingly fighting to the death to try to get you to vote for their candidate.
Campaigning online started on April 17 this year, while campus campaigning started April 24. Election season came to an end Friday.
The USAC Election Board keeps tabs on the entirety of the election. The board organizes and facilitates applications for candidates, slates and referenda. It regulates everything in regards to campaigning – from the size of posters on Election Walk to when campaigns can hand out leaflets. If you’d like to read an extensive list of rules and regulations related to campaigning, you can find them here.
Campaigns can be sanctioned for a variety of online offenses, like omitting the official election board stamp on social media posts or failing to use the appropriate USAC election board hashtags. However, some believe that the sanctions election board hands out have been historically lax, or not well-enforced enough in the first place.
The election board started handing out sanctions before campaigning began. On April 7, a student posted a Facebook status encouraging people to vote for particular candidates. As punishment, these candidates were banned from campaigning for a whole 30 minutes when online campaigning started April 17.
On April 17 and 18, 12 sanctions rolled in regarding online campaigning. Many centered around the fact that supporters failed to use an official Election Board stamp on their campaign posts, or around missing the mandatory #USACVoiceYourVote hashtag on social media posts. The candidates and offenders merely had to add the proper stamp or hashtag to their post.
More sanctions were issued during week four when some candidates violated the hashtag and logo rules on social media and another violated rules regarding permissible hours to distribute leaflets. These sanctions carried the some of the heftiest individual consequences of the season – one candidate was banned from online campaigning for an entire work day, another was prohibited from distributing leaflets for three whole hours.
Things ramped up in week five, as the board issued even more sanctions when multiple candidates failed to disclose campaign funding and expense information. Candidates who failed to submit funding information were barred from campaigning on campus from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. May 2. Candidates that also failed to submit their expenses information were then barred from campaigning for the next hour.
The election board issued more sanctions on May 1 and 2. The violations included a missing election logo on campaign material and missing hashtags on social media. The punishments required candidates to update their posts or campaign material, while one candidate was barred from campaigning online from 7 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. on Thursday.
The harshest sanction of the season was issued the night of May 2, when a slate failed to disclose a mobile app sponsorship. The slate was barred from campaigning for the entirety of Wednesday – a 24-hour ban.
Some of the final sanctions of this election cycle were issued Thursday night. Some of the candidates in question violated leafleting rules, while others violated online rules. Sanctions included a 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. ban on campaigning for one candidate, a 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. ban for another.
We also saw a bit of drama on Thursday night, as the USAC Judicial Board reviewed a petition claiming the election board had not sanctioned Bruins United, the slate with mobile-app sponsorship, sufficiently for their violations. The Judicial Board unanimously ruled against their petition.
I’m personally surprised it took so long for a group of students to file a petition of the sort. Oftentimes this year I felt that Election Board’s sanctions have not been severe enough. Prohibiting people from campaigning online for 15 or 30 minutes will have no real affect on the outcome of an election, nor will prohibiting someone from handing out leaflets at 7 a.m., when most students are dead to the world anyway.
Additionally, issuing a sanction that merely forbids candidates to campaign online for 15 or 30 minutes after failing to use the proper hashtag and Election Board logo on social media posts doesn’t make much sense.
Why bother going through the effort of issuing a sanction that won’t have any real effect on the campaign? Candidates do not have any control over their followers, so unless Election Board runs in the opposite direction and increases online campaigning bans – which doesn’t make much sense either and opens the door for opponents to troll a campaign – they should do away with the bans all together and just make candidates update posts with the proper information.
If Election Board truly wants to live up to their mission in creating “an election environment where students can freely, openly, and fairly exercise their right to make a difference at UCLA,” they need to implement harsher punishments against slates and candidates who violate rules in regards to physical campaigning and campaign finance. That would give campaigns an incentive to follow the rules the first time.
Additionally, the sanctions would have a real, tangible impact on the results of the election, rather than being a slap on the wrist.
Sanctions for flyering would have a larger impact on the outcome of the election if the punishment was a ban from flyering for three or four hours during hours where Bruin Walk receives peak foot traffic, rather than at 7 a.m. Those sort of consequences could carry a lasting impact on the results of elections in the dog-eat-dog world that is election week at UCLA and encourage slates and candidates to better follow the rules in the first place.