When it comes to safeguarding the integrity of our student government elections, the Undergraduate Students Association Council just can’t get it right.
In the wake of an explosive controversy in spring over alleged voter coercion, UCLA students doubtlessly expected USAC to institute far-reaching reforms to clean up campus elections.
Five months later, the student body is still waiting.
In fact, student government leaders have been spinning their wheels, demonstrating an unwillingness to prevent last year’s electoral debacle from reoccurring.
In spring, the USAC Election Board investigated credible allegations that General Representative 2 Bella Martin, then a candidate, had violated the right of students to vote in privacy by engaging in voter coercion. Although the election board’s ad hoc investigations committee determined Martin’s disqualification would be a reasonable response to the allegations, then-Election Board Chair Jack Price refused to issue a sanction. His refusal contravened the will of the USAC Judicial Board, which heard a petition on the issue and ordered Price to issue a sanction.
By refusing to issue a sanction against Martin, Price – a 2016-2017 USAC candidate-turned election board chair – declined to fulfill the election board’s expansive responsibility to uniformly enforce the election code. Specifically, the election board is charged with maintaining the integrity of our student government elections by issuing sanctions against offending candidates, a duty that is made all the more difficult when those at the helm are incompetent or politically biased.
This basic tenet may manifest itself at Tuesday’s council meeting. USAC President Claire Fieldman is currently slated to nominate Richard White, a major player in student government, to chair the election board. Although Fieldman’s move will have the salutary effect of filling a vacuum in the election board’s leadership, her nominee is far too entangled with campus politics to serve effectively.
In fact, a lack of political associations should be a precondition for service on the election board. The council should uphold this principle by rejecting White’s nomination and ensuring that future election board chairs are free of such biases.
Simply put, White is not in a position to clean up USAC elections. In spring, he ran for USAC president under the Leaders Influencing Tomorrow slate. Although he ultimately lost the race to Fieldman, the mere fact he is associated with a USAC slate should disqualify him from chairing the election board. After all, there is no reason why White, a former candidate who has made his political inclinations known, should be given the power to dictate what future candidates can and cannot do.
In addition, White has served on the Student Fee Advisory Committee, a campus organization that weighs in on the disbursement of student fees to support various campus projects, some of which can be politically charged.
Put simply, White’s extensive political affiliations suggest that he will not be able to improve the election code or implement its strictures impartially. As we saw in May, election board chairs can, in fact, dictate the winners and losers of USAC elections.
Furthermore, we need only examine the structure of our election system to elucidate the importance of impartiality in the election board’s adjudications. The election code states that “(The election board chair must) maintain absolute impartiality in the administration and conduct of all elections.” This means the election board is charged with preserving the sanctity of our campus democracy and ensuring all election procedures comport with basic principles of fairness and justice.
These are weighty and onerous responsibilities. They appear even more so when one recognizes that the election board cannot directly implement its mandates but must rely on its legitimacy among student leaders and the student body at large. Should the board lose its legitimacy, student leaders cannot be compelled to abide by its decisions. This makes ruling in an impartial fashion all the more important.
When the council chooses the next election board chair, it must take these considerations into account. Even the most remote possibility that political calculations will affect any nominee’s judgment should dissuade USAC members from elevating that nominee to the election board. This applies to White’s nomination and to the nominations of all others who seek a position on the election board. Refusing to adopt this rigorous standard risks a repeat of last year’s electoral fiasco.
Some may argue USAC will not be able to find a pool of qualified candidates outside the realm of student government. However, this line of argument unfairly assumes that the self-contained ecosystem of student government is the campus’ only repository of administrative competence.
UCLA boasts hundreds of clubs and organizations, many of which have trained its students in basic principles of group administration and leadership. As long as new appointees are afforded a period of time to familiarize themselves with the election code, any reasonably competent and impartial student could fairly exercise the election board’s powers.
Considerations of fairness and impartiality must take precedence whenever the USAC president nominates students to the election board. Otherwise, the council will only continue to get campus elections wrong.