ASUC senator Mahathi Kandimalla introduced Senate Resolution No. 2022/2023-057 last week in an effort to ban political parties and coalitions from participating in future ASUC elections.
Senators Kandimalla and Shay Cohen are co-sponsors of the resolution, who are looking to reform the election process by letting go of long-standing ASUC party traditions.
The resolution alleges that partisan politics serve as a corrupting force within the ASUC. According to Kandimalla, the resolution would cross out the word “party” in each related election bylaw and edit the party bylaw to prevent candidates from running with parties.
“I know parties are meant to support students in elections, but oftentimes, it just leads to people picking specific people, tokenizing communities, and ignoring low-income and transfer students in specific,” Kandimalla said.
Kandimalla was affiliated with Student Action, an ASUC party that recently decided to not run any candidates in the spring 2023 election. She alleged that parties create a hostile environment within the ASUC and depend on “institutionalized power” to operate.
Cohen echoed similar concerns, alleging that multiple elected officials expressed to her that their party prevented them from voting in ways they morally agreed with.
“If your party is the reason why you’re not doing what you believe in, then there clearly is a problem,” Cohen said.
Soha Manzoor, ASUC senator and founding member of Elevate Cal, pushed back against claims of party corruption, noting that news of the resolution was both surprising and concerning.
One clause in the resolution states that recent parties offer no “significant ideological differences”; a claim that Manzoor denies. She added that Elevate Cal’s community agreements are historically unique and include commitments to support the safety of marginalized communities.
“If a community of people want to run together under a like-minded cause and wants institutionalized support for whatever that might be, I believe that fundamentally in a democracy, that is their right to do so. I think this bill oversteps that right,” Manzoor said.
ASUC senator and co-sponsor of the resolution Yasamin Hatefi noted that although parties help elect candidates, they fail to effectively create progress and serve the student body as a whole.
Hatefi recently left Elevate Cal after about one year of affiliation, alleging multiple causes for her departure. She noted concerns of anti-transfer student sentiment from party members as well as alleged efforts from elected officials to control her actions on social media.
“I am fully in support of this resolution and co-sponsored it because I experienced first-hand how political parties falsely promise students who are traditionally marginalized from government institutions, such as the ASUC, a seat as an elected official but then turn around and expect all the candidates to do the work themselves,” Hatefi said in an email. “The reality is that political parties do less of what they promise but still expect you to meet certain goals in fear of being shunned by my colleagues.”
Elevate Cal co-sponsor Sarah Ansell noted that Elevate Cal leaders are not involved in the legislative process during the school year and denied claims that the party tells its members to vote in a certain way.
Although Manzoor acknowledges the ongoing concern about party politics, she also says the idea that parties tell their members how to vote or act is a misconception.
“I want to make it very clear that, as a member of Elevate Cal since its first day, a group of people as a party is not some abstract, amorphous thing that is somehow telling us what to think,” Manzoor said. “It is a group of people who discuss and come together and allow each other space and room to disagree constantly.”
Ansell noted that their primary roles involve teaching candidates about ASUC bylaws, campaign rules and elements of ASUC history during the election process.
However, Hatefi alleged that Elevate Cal failed to adequately support her during the recruiting process of her campaign, and she instead relied on support from her colleagues at the Transfer Representative Office.
Elevate Cal co-chair Isabel Huerta said she is open to party reform like banning party dues. Manzoor noted that while other ASUC parties required party fees in the past, Elevate Cal has never charged its members.
“I think a lot of the points that were mentioned in the bill are things that we recognize as weaknesses in the ASUC,” Ansell said. “And we really would have loved to work collaboratively with the people who vote in this resolution to try to find solutions that work for everybody.”
The bill states that it does not bar informal campaign coordination, nor does it bar community coalitions and caucuses from providing independent candidate endorsements.
Yet according to Ansell, the ability for coalitions to formally organize is necessary to drive social change. While change can be made from inside the office, people first need to work together to access these spaces of power, Ansell added.
“When you ban the ability to work together and to learn from each other without any viable solution to address the root cause of this problem, which is the accessibility of our bylaws and our election system, the people who are going to suffer the most are the most underrepresented students,” Ansell said.
The future of the bill remains uncertain. Manzoor noted the resolution will be deliberated by the Internal Affairs Committee on Monday, where the committee can either table it indefinitely or pass it on to the Senate floor Wednesday.
“We can see from this upcoming election that there’s a rise in independent candidates, both for the executive and the Senate roles,” Cohen said. “And I think that’s just because people are more aware of the corruption that goes on within parties.”