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Editorial: Perhaps USAC candidates would follow the rules – if they actually knew what they were

By Editorial Board

November 25, 2019 1:08 am

An Undergraduate Students Association Council member broke the rules.

But he can hardly be blamed when the rules contradict themselves.

The Undergraduate Students Association Judicial Board found that newly elected General Representative 2 Orion Smedley violated election rules when he improperly campaigned on the Hill in the fall special election. However, the very same decision ruled that Smedley would be spared any punishment. After all, he followed the rules laid out by USAC’s election referees, the election board.

The only problem was that the rules were wrong.

According to an investigation from the judicial board, both the election board’s website and former election board chair Kyana Shajari provided Smedley with outdated and incorrect guidance leading up to his campaign.

It’s hardly surprising that a candidate who had no previous USAC experience would get things wrong – especially when the correct information was never clear to begin with.

And though there is surely some comedic relief in the fact that USAC couldn’t sanction a member because of its own outdated rules, students won’t be laughing if this pattern continues. A lack of consistency has created a culture that bars newcomers and discourages much needed accountability within USAC. With openings for a new election board chair, USAC needs to prioritize comprehensively updating the election code before more of its own slips through the cracks.

This may come as a surprise, but not every student has memorized USAC’s regulatory minutiae. Most students don’t care about USAC at all, judging by the election’s 9% voter turnout.

But this year made clear that even if students do read all 13 sections of the election code, they will likely be left with a warped understanding of the regulations. So while the council called Smedley’s violations “egregious” and “a known fact,” it made its tendency toward reinforcing a history of exclusivity overwhelmingly obvious.

Given the council’s stated desire to improve participation, it is absurd to punish an outsider candidate with a six-day-long investigation for not knowing the rules. More egregious is a punishment that stems from USAC’s own misinformation.

Judicial board chair Jamail Gibbs rightly pointed out during Tuesday’s council meeting that Smedley may not have known about campaigning restrictions unless he was already part of USAC. Misinformation from Shajari, the highest officer of election governance, only muddles things further.

It’s no wonder there weren’t enough candidates for the spring election. The rules are anyone’s guess, and a time-consuming court proceeding is more than likely.

So much for an institution that flaunts its status as a voice of the students.

Granted, the window for changing the election board rules is small – and this late in the quarter, it may be extremely difficult, if not impossible. But this issue could potentially create more systemic issues in the future, and that’s something the council can’t afford if it truly wants to increase accessibility.

With more candidates running as independent – as seen in the fall special election – using Smedley as an example to punish outsiders won’t be helping USAC’s underwhelming elections or its attempts toward inclusivity.

USAC needs to undertake a sweeping overhaul of its election code if it wants any hope of encouraging outsider participation.

Otherwise, the council stands to look more like an insider trading circle than a student government.

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