The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s members spoke of shaking up the council when they ran for office in spring quarter. What no one expected them to do, however, was throw out transparent practices in the process.
The undergraduate student government voted last week to amend its election code, a document which governs how USAC elections are run, to remove a provision increasing the campaign spending limit for candidates running under slates, or campus political groups, by an additional $200 each.
Election code amendments are typically reviewed by the USAC Election Board, an independent body that moderates campus elections, and presented to the council after the board discusses the motivation and potential effects of the changes. The council’s decision last week, however, was made without oversight of the election board, which has yet to even be staffed.
The council’s election code change represents a troubling break from precedent. The reason for having election board members oversee rule changes is to protect the election code from partisan interests, and the council shouldn’t unilaterally play politics with rule changes, regardless of how merited they may be, until a review body is put into place.
It’s apparent the election code amendment was rushed through the council from the get-go. Divya Sharma, USAC’s Academic Affairs commissioner, proposed the change at the council’s Aug. 31 meeting, and the council voted on the amendment in its first fall quarter meeting after an hour of ambivalent discussion.
USAC President Arielle Yael Mokhtarzadeh, however, has yet to nominate a chair of the election board, despite the council’s bylaws stating one must be appointed before the first week of fall quarter. While it’s not unusual for USAC to appoint an election board chair later in the academic year, the council effectively took election matters into its own hands by making a change with no board in place.
Sharma pointed out the election code bylaws don’t dictate that only the board can propose amendments. However, going through the board has been the norm. For example, the election code underwent changes last year only after the election board proposed amendments that were then approved by the council.
Similarly in 2013, then-President David Bocarsly had to send his election code amendment to the election board, after which the change had to go through USAC’s Constitutional Review Committee, a committee that suggests changes to the council’s bylaws, before the council voted on the proposal.
Conversely, Sharma proposed his amendment during the summer, when a number of council members were absent and when most students were not on campus, and council members pushed through an amendment making a significant change to the election code in just one meeting. Changes to the election code influence who runs and what limitations candidates have, and it’s only fair they go through the election board to ensure they are fair.
Moreover, there is no urgent need for a spending limit change seven months ahead of the election. The council should have waited until the appointment of an election board chair, run its change by the board and then taken a vote.
Casting aside precedents meant to uphold transparency is a disservice to students. It’s one thing to try to create a fair battleground. It’s another to do it without any oversight.