Ruling Censures Referendum Proponents

    Three days into the controversial special election on campus athletics, a slew of accusations alleging improper campaigning practices and misconduct by athletes sparked an emotional grievance hearing, at which the elections committee dealt a decisive blow to referendum advocates, restricting their capacity to lobby for support.

    Erik Jepsen/Guardian
    A.S. President Harry Khanna, left, and A.S. Assistant Special Elections Manager Michelle Yetter sit on the committee that voted to sanction referendum supporters.

    Following the committee’s ruling at the Jan. 31 meeting, students officially affiliated with the “”pro”” side of the referendum — including the athletics department, Triton athletes and the Triton Athletic Council — will be restricted to only “”neutral campaigning,”” A.S. Assistant Elections Manager Michelle Yetter said. The neutral campaign, which will be in effect as of noon on Feb. 1, limits those supporters to only advocate voting on the referendum, and not any particular position. The “”pro”” side will also be responsible for reimbursing the A.S. Council for $60 in tent and rental fees, and will be placed on probation — paving the way for harsher punishments in the event of future infractions.

    Thurgood Marshall College Junior Senator Kyle Samia, an open critic of the proposed $78-per-quarter fee increase, filed a formal grievance with Special Elections Manager Erik Rodriguez-Palacios claiming that student athletes violated a policy that bars campaigning within areas near polling stations and misused equipment funded by the A.S. Council.

    In the hearing, held just hours after Samia submitted his grievance, the special elections committee listened to a presentation by Samia, as well as another from Assistant Vice President of Athletic Relations Kari Gohd and Earl Warren College Junior Senator Daniel Palay, who were asked to represent the body of athletes. Rodriguez-Palacios, called as a witness by Samia, recused himself from the hearing — Yetter moderated the inquiry in his stead.

    Samia said he filed the grievance after a group of athletes distributed literature supporting the referendum out of a Library Walk tent rented by the A.S. Council. Because the site was meant to serve as an official polling location, Samia said, the athletes violated elections bylaws that block campaigning within 50 feet of a polling place while voting is open.

    Rodriguez-Palacios witnessed the same incident as Samia, but was unaware at the time that a grievance had been filed. The alleged infraction occurred at around 11 a.m., when a group of three to five members of the men’s baseball team stood inside the polling tent with laptops and allegedly distributed flyers advocating a “”yes”” vote on the referendum, Rodriguez-Palacios told the committee.

    Rodriguez-Palacios said that he identified himself as the elections manager and asked the athletes to leave, but they responded that an athletics director had told them they were allowed to be there. However, Senior Associate Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Kenneth J. Grosse denied that the athletes were instructed to be in that location — he eventually asked them to vacate the area.

    “”I think there was some confusion as to where they should have been,”” Grosse said. “”They told me they didn’t really have a chance to talk to anybody.””

    Rodriguez-Palacios, however, said that the athletes were in the area for at least 20 minutes, and only agreed to leave after they were told to do so by Grosse.

    Then, at around 1 p.m., Rodriguez-Palacios said, the official polling location was relocated to the Price Center Ballroom due to rain. However, he said he believed that at the time of the alleged violation, the Library Walk location was still the official A.S. polling site.

    “”That specific site had been publicized and selected by me as the official polling location of the A.S.,”” he said at the hearing.

    Gohd, however, argued that Rodriguez-Palacios failed to specifically indicate the 50-foot marker barring campaigners — a duty mandated by the elections bylaws. She also said she believed that the athletes could potentially have been confused, because the Price Center site — which Rodriguez-Palacios initially dubbed unofficial — featured computers rented by the council and was staffed by A.S. affiliates.

    “”The polling place over this week has not really been very well defined,”” Gohd said. “”It can’t be campaigning within 50 feet of a polling location when a polling location is not there.””

    However, Samia said he did not believe that Gohd offered a valid excuse for the alleged infraction.

    “”I understand there are a lot of athletes, and though it may be argued that it’s hard to keep track of them, I believe that all athletes and supporters of the athletes should be held accountable to the bylaws,”” he said.

    Regarding the alleged misuse of A.S. equipment, the council’s election bylaws dictate that any A.S. offices, enterprises, services or equipment — including computers, paints, stationery and the council’s logo — cannot be used to endorse “”a candidate or slate at any time.”” According to Samia, the tent and tables constituted A.S. equipment, and therefore their use in distributing pro-referendum materials constituted a violation of this rule.

    Samia also reported “”a complete and total lack of sportsmanship”” on behalf of a contingent of athletes and other referendum supporters who publicly heckled both him and former John Muir College Junior Senator Aida Kuzucan during a Jan. 29 debate on the referendum. Students in the crowd continually booed Kuzucan and Samia, both representing interests against the referendum’s approval. The taunts continued even after a debate moderator asked the audience members to stop.

    “”The way they conducted themselves during the debate has created a hostile environment,”” Samia said. “”They back students into a corner to vote for this.””

    Notice of Samia’s grievance spurred other A.S. councilmembers to voice instances of alleged harassment by referendum proponents — both Kuzucan and Sixth College Junior Senator Cindy Ly reported that unaffiliated students approached them about specific instances of misconduct.

    According to an acquaintance of Ly, who requested to not be identified for fear of reprisals, two people who had established an independent polling location inside Sierra Summit attempted to use the browser’s “”back”” button after a student had voted from one of their laptops — he said he believed it was an attempt to discover the student’s vote.

    Additionally, three other students claiming harassment have decided to file an additional grievance against proponents of the fee referendum, Kuzucan stated in an e-mail. However, as of press time, she could not be reached for further comment.

    An allegation of harassment is not in fact a bylaw violation, Gohd said.

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