UCLA’s undergraduate student government voted last week to reduce the amount student political groups can spend on election campaigns in order to make campaigning more fair.
The Undergraduate Students Association Council removed parts of an election code bylaw that allowed candidates running in student political groups called slates to raise an additional $200 for their slate to promote its entire pool of candidates. The amendment passed by a 9-2-2 vote. Some council members said they think the change will make election campaigns more equitable, while others said they think the change was biased against slates.
USAC Academic Affairs Commissioner Divya Sharma first proposed the amendment at the council’s Aug. 31 meeting. The council tabled the amendment because its bylaws required the action item to be shared with the council at least two days before the meeting, said USAC President Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh. She added the council also waited to vote on the amendment in order to allow the public and the council time to consider the change.
Sharma said he proposed the amendment because he thinks the bylaw gave an unfair advantage to slates.
“The first thing I thought we should address was the ability of slates to get additional money for just having a candidate, and that just seems unfair to me because they’re already able to pool their money and resources,” he said.
Every candidate running in the election has an individual spending limit, with executive positions, such as the president, having a spending limit ranging from $800 to $950, and nonexecutive positions having a spending limit ranging from $650 to $800. The election board chair determines the exact spending limit. Candidates running on slates can pool financial resources to promote all their slates’ candidates, including through fliers and merchandise.
Sharma added he thinks the amendment will help alleviate the financial burdens and barriers students face when running for council.
“This is the first step in reforming election board finances,” he said. “I hope that when I’m done with my term, students whose voices have never been heard before will run for council.”
Several council members said they voted for the amendment because they think the election code’s spending limits should be reformed.
USAC General Representative 1 Nicole Corona Diaz said she thinks lowering campaign spending caps will encourage more students to run for office.
“I was able to budget my finances for this year’s campaign under $100 because I got creative, and created my own signboard with the materials I had from my backyard,” she said. “I think every student should be able to run, but there are students who feel the financial burdens.”
USAC Facilities Commissioner Zahra Hajee said she thinks slates have an advantage in elections because they can share campaign resources.
“When slates are flyering, they are essentially flyering for every candidate on their slate,” she said. “Those resources accumulate and give benefits to slates, so it’s important to level the playing field when individuals campaign.”
Some council members who voted against the amendment said they think the change was driven by political interests that favored independent candidates.
USAC General Representative 3 Justin Jackson said he thinks adding this agenda item during the summer excluded students from the discussion.
“The campus is not nearly as active in the summer, so introducing this during the summer didn’t allow students to have input on our agenda,” he said.
Sharma said he proposed the amendments during the summer to address campaign finances early on, before the issue arises during elections.
“We are not just going to stay complicit and wait for the election to happen and then see that there’s a problem,” he said.
Jackson added he thinks voting on amendments to change the election code without appointing an election board chair violates the bylaws.
“The election code is very explicit in stating that amendments to the election code shall be presented to the USAC by the election board chair,” he said. “In my opinion, (the amendment is) going against the election code.”
According to the election code bylaws, the election board chair should present code amendments to the council, along with recommendations for approval or disapproval of the amendments. Any bylaw change requires a two-thirds vote to pass.
Sharma said he thinks the bylaw’s use of the word “shall” allows council members to vote for amendments without the the election board chair.
“Shall does not mean must,” he said. “So it does open up it to council members to amend the election code.”
USAC Financial Supports Commissioner Aaron Boudaie said he thinks council members’ votes were driven by their personal experience in last year’s election.
“The election board exists because all council members have a bias,” he said. “The amendment was a political decision … the intention was sort of to hurt slates.”
Boudaie added he thinks it is unfair the bylaws still allow independent candidates to raise an additional $400 if they are running against slates.
Sharma said he thinks this bylaw change is the start of additional election code reforms by the council and he plans to continue to look for ways to improve the election code.
“I want students to know that they don’t have to go to slates to get their voice heard, and that the council is there to make sure that their voices are maximized,” he said.