Elections Board sanctions candidates running for student government
Two candidates in the 2020 Undergraduate Students Association Council election were sanctioned for hiring for the 2020-2021 year before campaigning even began. The prevalence of such actions stem from the frequent use of internal elections in commissions, said council president Robert Watson. (Daily Bruin file photo)
April 14, 2020 5:52 p.m.
Undergraduate student government election officials imposed sanctions on two candidates who were found to have been preemptively hiring for the office’s 2020-2021 year before the 2020 election season even began.
The Elections Board, which manages the Undergraduate Students Association Council election and is responsible for regulating candidate conduct, sanctioned candidates Jonathan Wisner and Christina Read for recruiting for the offices they are running for before actually winning the seats.
Wisner is running for re-election as the community service commissioner, while Christina Read is running for Student Wellness Commissioner.
Wisner’s and Read’s misconduct are two of eight sanctions levied against candidates since campaigning for the 2020 USAC election began Wednesday. The other six charges against candidates are for premature campaigning and mistagging social media posts.
Candidates who are found to be preemptively recruiting must comply with the immediate withdrawal of staff applications, stop hiring and publish a 250-word apology posted to their campaign and personal Facebook pages, according to the sanction.The other infractions prompted the temporary suspension of online campaigning for social media violations, updating social media posts to meet the Elections Board’s requirements and temporarily prohibiting campaign members found in violation from using messaging applications.
USAC President Robert Watson said that these candidates’ actions were not from a place of ill intent or malice.
However, Undergraduate Students Association Judicial Board Chief Justice Jamail Gibbs said that the situation with Wisner and Read was not a novel incident and that they may have followed the example of what they had previously seen. The prevalence of such actions stem from the frequent use of internal elections in commissions, Watson said.
Most UCLA students are eligible to run for USAC, but some USAC commissions hold “internal elections” prior to the school-wide election season where members of the commission decide who from within the office will run for the council seat. That candidate often runs unopposed in the official school-wide election said Elections Board Chair Navi Sidhu. Of the six commission seats on the council, only one is contested this year.
Read said the SWC board opts to internally elect the commissioner in order to prepare them fully before the turnover period near the end of the year when they are officially elected. Hiring staff in advance also allows the commission to train them for the upcoming year, Read added.
Wisner did not respond to requests for comment.
Gibbs said that the perception put forward by preemptive hiring and internal elections can be harmful to the student body as it can lead people to believe that elections are performative and sets a bad example for other USAC offices.
The action of hiring before the candidate ballots are released is a worrying practice as it presents the perception that the candidates won office before they knew they were running unopposed, Watson said.
The Elections Board Executive Committee released a statement in February condemning the practice of internal elections, stating that they pose a risk to the democratic operations of USAC. According to the statement, internal elections are a meritocratic process and lead to a misrepresentation of the students’ voice.
Some prospective commissioners may be concerned with the longer transition period of a normal election, which takes place around week 6, as opposed to an internal election which takes place around week 1, Watson said. Larger projects that commissions manage, such as Bruin Bash, take several months to plan.
Upwards of five commissions participate in internal elections, but it isn’t widely advertised to reduce controversy, Watson said.
Gibbs said that internal elections might mean that the most qualified and experienced person running in the election is elected, bringing in a prepared individual into the position.
However, Sidhu said that the concern over internal elections has been brought to attention this year since it might impose on other prospective candidates.
The concern is that since internal elections are closed off, it discourages other students from running and the internal candidate may not be an accurate representation of the students’ voice, Gibbs said.
Sidhu added that the use of internal elections might indicate the need for structural change within commissions, where a shorter transition period can be accommodated with the standard election timeline.
Watson said since internal elections have been a longstanding process, a constitutional amendment should be encouraged to have it properly incorporated into the USAC constitution. This would also let the student body decide the necessity of such internal elections.
There are also larger concerns over the student perceptions of USAC due to such occurrences. Watson said that USAC is perceived as an exclusive club, and such internal elections make it more of a closed-off process.
This can create structural inequality and can discourage people from running for positions they may be passionate about, Sidhu said.