Letter to the Editor 5-05-14
On April 2nd and 3rd of this year, approximately 2,200 undergraduate students at UNLV cast their votes for the next CSUN Executive Board. Those votes mean nothing.
About one month prior to that, six students submitted their filing packets to run for Student Body President, Vice President and Senate President, and were given a packet of official Elections Rules that they affirmed via a signed document that they would uphold. Those rules mean nothing.
Each semester, CSUN holds either its Senate or Executive Board elections, spending several thousand dollars in the process, and anywhere from 6-10 percent of students vote.
While those numbers are abysmal, I don’t intend to slight those that did vote; at least they tried. But of those 2,200 that chose to vote on April 2nd and 3rd, it is likely that less than half of those students actually voted because they did their research and chose to support candidates they believed in.
What’s far more likely is that, as students walked to class (desperately attempting to avoid the dozens of students that were scattered around campus peddling campaign flyers) they were approached and asked to vote for either: a) a ticket with a name similar to one they have seen for three years on this campus, or b) a ticket with a catchy name and a reference to the top grossing movie of 2013.
At this point, more than half of those students kept walking, offended that anyone would attempt to speak to them; the others took the flyer they were handed, and obligingly took a stroll to the nearest polling location to cast their vote, referencing the paper they held in their hand as they filled in bubbles on a scantron.
If the problem is evident already, let me explain: The students whose names most voters didn’t even remember as they went to cast their ballots, let alone their stances on various policy issues, would end up controlling a $1 million budget over the next year.
One million dollars in student fees, all in the hands of one group of kids or another. The difference? The head of one ticket, Rebels Re-United, has been involved in CSUN for three years, and has been a part of the executive administration for the past year and a half.
The head of the other ticket— the one with the catchy (and illegally used slogan) and reference to a 2013 blockbuster— has been a CSUN senator for five months.
The candidate for Senate President on the Rebels Re-United ticket has been a senator since just last summer, and yet has mastered the parliamentary procedure that is used in weekly Senate meetings, and has spearheaded most of the important legislation of this senate session; the other candidate for Senate President has yet to make a proper motion before the body in his year-and-a-half long tenure.
But the students don’t know this. Elections are about numbers. If you have the manpower and enough time on your hands in a 48-hour timeframe, you can win any election on UNLV’s campus.
And then it can all be taken away. After each election, candidates attend an Elections Board complaints hearing, meant to assess violations of the Elections Rules and enact the appropriate penalties as prescribed by the rules that all candidates agree to follow before the election even begins.
It is here that a group of your peers decides if lying to students during a debate constitutes “questionable misconduct,” or if campaigning within 25 feet of a polling location constitutes “campaigning within 25 feet of a polling location”—yes, sometimes the rules really are that clear—and sometimes candidates are disqualified.
The rules that the candidates sign a contract to follow are there to create a level playing field for all candidates. When some candidates break rules and others don’t, they distort that playing field, and the Elections Board’s job is to correct those distortions by holding rule-breakers accountable.
The Board I oversaw, along with my Elections Director, conducted a fair hearing: they accepted complaints, they posted an agenda for a public hearing, notified all candidates of the complaints filed against them, and judiciously heard the complaints before them based on the evidence submitted by both sides.
And then they disqualified one ticket (numerous times, for various, egregious violations of the rules they agreed to follow). And here is where the real problems begin.
First and foremost, this entire system is completely and irreparably broken. One candidate who was disqualified, Kanani Espinoza, didn’t even break any of the rules herself; she was disqualified for the misdeeds of her ticket-mates and recognized supporters.
Yet, the rules state that candidates are responsible for certain actions taken by the other members of their ticket and all actions taken by their supporters. In my opinion, the only thing Kanani Espinoza did wrong was decide to run with two individuals who are completely devoid of morals or ethics. But let’s carry on.
Following the Elections Board complaint hearing come the obligatory appeals to the Judicial Council—a team of nine students who have no real legal training and yet think they were sent by God to adjudicate every legal matter under the sun. At the end of the day, these nine students’ votes are the only ones that matter when deciding who the next CSUN Executive Board will be. In this case, they heard from an aggrieved ticket of disqualified candidates and myself, the official representative of the Elections Board, whom the complaints were filed against. In a case that was supposed to assess whether the due process rights of the disqualified candidates were violated, the Judicial Council instead violated the CSUN Constitution and their oaths of office by hearing original complaint evidence, arguing as to their own innocence or guilt of complaints that could not be legally heard by the Judicial Council, and allowed the candidates to accuse the members of the Elections Board of being biased against them. They pulled out all the stops. They threw 100 darts at the wall, hoping one would stick. And they did. In a direct violation of the CSUN Constitution, six Justices decided that one ticket could get away with breaking all the rules (the Constitution states that seven must be present), and stealthily swore them into office at midnight on May 1, 2014.
The fix to this problem? Eliminate all elections rules in the future and let the candidates have a complete free-for-all, never mind the female students who came forward after the election to accuse now-Senate President and notorious womanizer Vladislav Zhitny of being overly aggressive with them in his attempts to drive people to the polls. Alternatively, CSUN could establish a non-student board to hear elections complaints, like the one former Student Body President Mark Ciavola advocated for before he left office. Either way, something needs to be done, or else CSUN might as well save its money going forward by doing away with elections altogether and allowing the nine (or six, really whatever, at this point) CSUN Justices to vote to determine the next group of High School Musical cast members who will spend your money for years to come. The students at UNLV deserve better than what they’ve been given. What they could have had is a group of young adults who have a proven track record of working hard on behalf of UNLV students; what they’re stuck with are three kids who are eager for a title and a name tag.
-Former CSUN Vice President,