Restoring integrity to the A.S. elections

    Politicians lie all the time. Bill Clinton lied about his sex life. Richard Nixon lied about Watergate.

    Sometimes politicians don’t “”lie,”” per se, but rather “”mislead”” the voters.

    In UCSD’s 2003 A.S. elections, two candidates ó both named Kevin Hsu ó ran for office under the same name. One ran on a political slate named Students First! and had been Warren College’s sophomore senator and the A.S. Vice President Internal. The other was the “”A.S. VP Internal”” and “”Warren sophomore senator”” of a student organization named Students First! People’s Parking Party presidential candidate Bryan Barton ran on a pro-parking platform, promising to fire “”as many meter maids as possible.”” Every candidate promised more S spots.

    These are examples of candidates misleading voters. It’s all shady activity, and somewhat dishonest, but deception ó even unintentional deception ó is certainly within their rights as American citizens.

    But on Feb. 4, the A.S. Council passed a bill submitted by A.S. Commissioner of Communications Frances Galvon to create new election bylaws that would have banned “”mislead[ing] voters on candidate statements, expression statements, or materials.”” In a rare instance of an A.S. president actually exercising his powers, Jeremy Paul Gallagher vetoed the bill, saving ASUCSD from the embarrassment of trying to unconstitutionally restrict candidates’ freedom of speech.

    Every candidate misleads voters in some way. Kevin Hsu’s very existence on the ballot could have been considered an attempt to mislead voters, and therefore grounds for disqualification under the proposed rule. Barton misled voters by promising to fire meter maids ó an undeliverable campaign promise. If he were disqualified because of that, the elections committee would be punishing him for his ignorance rather than any concerted attempt to mislead people. But the proposed bylaws didn’t allow for even unintentional deception. All that would be needed to prove a candidate “”violated”” the bylaw is a voter walking into the election committee and saying, “”I was misled.””

    A telltale sign of things to come, the vetoed bill also contained a one-sentence addition to the “”campaign period”” section. The addition read simply, “”Campaigning is allowed only within the campaign period.””

    The fact that the senate thought it necessary to add this clause to the existing bylaws proves that there was no existing punishment for campaigning outside of the campaign period. Since the addition was vetoed, the existing rules stand. Candidates can campaign outside of the campaign period ó and rightfully so, because preventing candidates from telling others of their potential candidacy is an unconstitutional restriction of their freedom of speech. For years, careless candidates falsely assumed that talking about running for office was somehow confined to the limits of a two-week period in March. The senate’s bill, and Gallagher’s principled veto, proves otherwise.

    The bill contained other signs that show a disturbing attempt to buttress the power of slate politics. One section of the bill destroyed the current limit of 150 words for candidate statements. No information was to appear on the ballot other than a name and whether the candidate accepted campaign spending limits. Later, the bill was amended to limit candidate “”expression statements”” to 40 characters ó about half as long as this sentence. The current statement lengths were put into place after the 2001 elections, in response to a suit filed against then-elections manager Vince Vasquez by Matthew Bechtel, who ran as an independent for A.S. commissioner of programming. The suit charged that the 2001 system was unfair: Only a candidate’s slate affiliation could appear next to his name, which discriminated against candidates without a slate. The A.S. Council agreed, and amended the elections bylaws to remove slate affiliations and add the candidate statement. This helped level the playing field for independent candidates by giving them an equal chance to publicize their campaigns on the ballot ó albeit in only 150 words. Galvon’s bill would have obliterated this, giving slates and student political parties a huge advantage. Slates distribute thousands of copies of their own campaign literature, each of which lists the names of their slated candidates. Without the ballot statements, underfunded independent candidates cannot compete.

    Another amendment would have narrowed the definition of the ban on “”campaign[ing] in classrooms”” to read “”actively campaign[ing] in classrooms.”” Last year, Jonathan Abeye, Students First!’s candidate for Thurgood Marshall College senior senator, was disqualified for draping a t-shirt bearing the Students First! logo over the back of a chair in a Peterson Hall classroom. This is as “”inactive”” as campaigning gets, and yet he was disqualified ó setting a precedent that helped to disqualify his entire slate.

    Galvon’s bill smacks of slate politics. Her Students First! slate faltered last year, losing many college-level senate races to independent candidates. Other elections were closer than they should have been, given the organizational ability of Students First! and its history of overwhelming electoral success at UCSD. Her bill is an attempt to twist the elections bylaws to reinvigorate Students First! by removing anti-slate obstacles like the candidate statements. The “”misleading voters”” ban would have disqualified the nonslate-affiliated Kevin Hsu. Other sections are narrowly tailored toward legalizing offenses committed by her fellow slate members last year, such as Abeye’s t-shirt incident.

    Certain aspects of the bill would have helped this election. David Goodwin, chair of the Student Council of Eleanor Roosevelt College, added an amendment codifying the widespread assumption that it’s illegal to defy the will of the elections committee.

    Other portions of the bill did pass, escaping Gallagher’s veto. The enacted portions were largely benign procedural clarifications and did not substantially change the elections process. Gallagher let them through, and rightfully condemned a politicized attempt to solidify the power of slate politics. That’s an honest politician.

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