Former ASUC Elections Council members reflect on council’s evolution

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Leslie Yang/File

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As the dust from the 2016 ASUC elections settles, the Elections Council will soon begin the process of deciding the composition of its next generation. In the fall, its new members will work with current officers to improve elections bylaws for the next round of elections in spring 2017.

Over the past couple of years, the focus of the ASUC Elections Council has increasingly expanded to include resolving party disputes rather than focusing primarily on the logistical organization of elections. The physical membership of the council itself has also swelled, consistent with the expansion of its formal responsibilities.

Denoted as an independent body by the ASUC Constitution under ASUC Bylaw 4101, the council consists of eight voting members: the chair, assistant chair, prosecutor, auditor, public defender, attorney general, chief accountability officer and a Graduate Assembly designee.

They’re responsible for making the elections run smoothly … for advertising and publicizing (and) making sure people know where and how to vote,” said UC Student Association President Kevin Sabo, a former ASUC attorney general.

Before last fall, the Elections Council had a top-down executive structure in which all control over administration was vested in the chair of the council, and all rule-enforcement authority was vested in the attorney general, according to current ASUC Attorney General and Chief Legal Officer Alek Klimek.

“With reforms passed in fall 2014, the council now has a defined membership and everyone gets one vote,” Klimek said in an email. “That is, the chair doesn’t have power over the other members.”

During Sabo’s stint as attorney general, Sabo said, he and the solicitor general were in charge of a number of areas that have since been broken down into multiple positions, including the public defender and elections prosecutor.

The elections prosecutor enforces elections rules on behalf of the council by bringing charges against candidates accused of elections violations, while the public defender acts as counsel and offers nonpartisan resources to those charged with violations.

“Before, a lot of the details of the election council were not written into the bylaws,” said Jenny Chien, former Elections Council chair. “Starting my senior year, it was really when the attorney general and solicitor general decided to turn Elections Council into a more defined, structured role.”

This election season, the council voted to deny CalSERVE — a historically dominant campus political party — its party name, citing the similarity of its name to UC Berkeley’s Cal branding, a decision the council later rescinded after it reached an agreement with CalSERVE.

Grayson Dimick, former elections assistant chair, said that although some considered the council’s decision on CalSERVE’s name to be partisan, from her experience on the council, she felt its decision was unbiased.

On March 13, the council determined that the Defend Affirmative Action Party’s candidates would be officially listed as independent candidates on the ballot as a result of the party’s failure to file an online endorsement form and party filing fee.

When the council refrained from overturning the reclassification, it became embroiled in a lawsuit that DAAP candidates filed against the ASUC and the university, specifically naming members of the Elections Council and Judicial Council. The lawsuit alleges violations of freedom of speech, free association and equal protection.

Current Elections Council members declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The council is also responsible for logistics such as briefing candidates, organizing the ballot boxes, the tabulations ceremony and clean-up, Sabo said.

Chien said that during her tenure as chair last year, however, the council transitioned from being focused on logistics and publicity to an entity that also tried to resolve party disputes.

As per ASUC bylaws, no member of the council can support candidates or propositions during elections to ensure that the council remains nonpartisan. Both Chien and Dimick said they had entered the council having no previous connections with the ASUC.

“There are always accusations of the council being partisan,” Sabo said. “I started off in a CalSERVE office, and they were suspicious that I was pro-CalSERVE when I was in office.”

In the 1800s, the campus’s student body was small enough for the ASUC to hold annual meetings of the entire student body to elect executive officers — the ASUC Senate did not exist yet. By the early 20th century, though, the student population had grown so large that it necessitated ballot elections.

“I really think there’s no way you could ever eliminate the Elections Council, because there’s no other committee or team or council that will be able to take on this role,” Chien said.

Senior staff writer Suhauna Hussain contributed to this report.

Contact Shradha Ganapathy at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sganapathy_dc.