The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Meeting, 21 October: Stayin’ Green

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 22 October 2009

Sustainability funding for the Senate. The main action item for yesterday’s Senate meeting was the approval of $895 from the Senate kitty for Sen. Katherine Weingartner’s project. The money will be used to further her campaign’s focus on sustainability and other “green” measures – in this case, providing non-disposable water bottles for the Tucson community.

Except, of course, that none of the $895 will actually be used to purchase water bottles. Instead, the money will be used to “raise awareness” of a fund-raising effort to purchase the water bottles. This includes a $300 ad in the Green Times (the latest issue of which has a page 1 article on ASUA’s sustainability program), $200 for a table on the Mall, $175 for one week of table toppers, and $120 for fliers. Sen. Weingartner mentioned that she had set up a PayPal account for donations to the project.

As far as sustainability goes, this is far from the most repulsive of measures (see some nominees here and here), although it would be nice if the money were spent actually purchasing bottles. Also, what groups exactly are being targeted for an ASUA Nalgene?

While sustainability measures are certainly more popular among The Youth than they are for the writers at this site, there is a case to be made that sustainability is second only to concerts when it comes to bureaucratic fervor. For the UA as a whole, it is probably first. Does this really reflect the preferences of ASUA’s – or the UA’s – constituency? There’s a paucity of polls (and a near absence of well-conducted polls) on student views on the matter, but there are certainly other issues – General Education, police enforcement priorities, ZonaZoo availability – that perhaps merit more focus.

Part of this reflects the difficulty entailed in making even the slightest modifications to the GenEd program, and the inability to have anything to show for one’s efforts at the end of the term. Thus, the Senate tends to move towards the provision of new products – be it the “SAPR scholarship” of Sen. Andre Rubio, the analog breathalyzers (HT: Connor) of Sen. James MacKenzie , or Sen. Fritze’s USA Today readership program – rather than focusing on structural changes in policy. This leads to the problem that Sen. Brooks alluded to when he asked, “Will the project continue past this year?”

Sen. Weingartner, slightly caught off guard, replied, “It depends,” but that of course isn’t the point. In some cases, this is a good thing: the one-year experiment of safety cards was more than enough. Yet in aggregate this leads to a sort of attention-deficit Congress, flitting from one focus to the other from year to year, marking off their resumes without setting any main direction for the university. Scholarships rise, readership programs fall, and only the provision of concerts maintains through the years.

Committee Reports. These committee reports used to come from internal committees, but in the past couple of weeks the Senate has shifted their focus towards reporting of the campus-wide committees on which they sit – the Undergraduate Council, the Campus Recreation Center Committee, etc. This is a rather underrated role of the Senate, and reflects the majority of their policy-making capabilities. A few notes:

-Sen. D. Wallace reported that the Undergraduate Council (UGC) just added eight more classes for Tier 2 GenEd eligibility.

-Sen. Atjian has urged the Health/Rec Center Fee Proposal Committee to present their proposal of “one big fee” before the Senate as whole.

Other Items of Note

-The Elections Code will be presented before the Senate on November 4. Also, the November 18 meeting will be held in the Rec Center, to unveil the new Gardens of Babylon Rec Center Expansion.

-Club Advocate Kenny Ho is now Chief Club Advocate Kenny Ho. You know what? That makes sense.

-President Nagata emphasized, perhaps in oblique response to this editorial, that the forthcoming Special Events survey would contain a question asking whether bringing a concert to campus is, in fact, a campus priority.

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Election Code violations, even over summer break

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 25 May 2009

Leo YamaguchiThe fun, it seems, never ends. A quick refresher: among its many restrictions, the ASUA Elections Code includes the following:

8-4.02

All General Election candidates shall remove all campaign materials within one(1)

business week after the results of the General Election are announced.  This includes

electronic resources such as Facebook Groups.

Yet even as the Senate voted to pass the Code with this provision, most all of them continued to maintain their own groups. This story was picked up in the Wildcat, and the Senate quickly moved to change their group names, lamely offering the excuse that these groups could not be removed (lame not in the sense that it isn’t true, but that such concerns should have been raised when they voted on the Code). This year’s class seems to have learned from the follies of their predecessors; yet Senator Yamaguchi apparently missed this entire discussion, as his Facebook group still exists under the name, “VOTE LEO for SENATE…ROCK ur VOTE!” The kicker? Among his many credentials, Senator Yamaguchi cites his membership in the “ASUA Policy & Conduct Review Board.” Now several weeks have passed since the election results were announced, and it is undeniable that Senator Yamaguchi stands in full violation of the Code. But since ASUA operates not by rule of law, but by rule of BIZARRO, Senator Yamaguchi, like his Code-violating colleague Senator Atjian, will escape with nothing more than a “tsk tsk” from President Nagata.

Again – the point is not to continue such absurdity. This is an incredibly boneheaded regulation, a half-born child of the “There Oughta Be a Law” mindset that plagues ASUA and the nation as a whole. Yet for all the ruckus that has been raised relating to this clause, no one has ever asked what this regulation accomplishes, or what makes a group’s name changing so essential. No one has ever asked how ASUA gets off so flagrantly violating the Constitution, or why ASUA has any business meddling in completely voluntary and private operations such as Facebook. Hopefully, Sens. Yamaguchi and Atjian will be the ones leading the way in designing a more reasonable elections code in the coming year.

At this point, it’s a wonder that anyone even listens to the Election Commission at all. If these election code violations go by unpunished, why bother adhering to any of its provisions? Spend thousands of dollars, form political parties, and post unapproved campaign material – as things currently stand, you won’t get docked anyway.

Cheerocracy Abroad: the ASU-West Elections Code

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 23 April 2009

CheerocracyThis story sounds way too familiar:

Gary Galvan just barely made it on the Associated Students of Arizona State University West Campus ballot this semester.

After originally being accused of 10 class IV violations and more than 150 class I violations by competing ASU West presidential candidate Andrew Clark, the ASASU Supreme Court found Galvan not guilty. Then, just three days before the election, his name was put back on the ballot.

Now, after being defeated by Clark, Galvan said the disqualification, the publicity, an unfair trial and an unclear ASASU Elections Code, which regulates and provides rules for student government elections on all campuses, affected his chance of gaining votes.

Arizona Attorney Dan Barr of Perkins Cole Brown and Bain P.A., who consults specifically for First Amendment rights, recently reviewed the code.

Barr confirmed that some of the ASASU Elections Code rules are too broad or unclear, but he also sees much larger problems with the code. He said the code is unconstitutional and unenforceable in many aspects.

“I think ASASU has some major issues with [this] code,” Barr said.

You don’t say? What kind of issues might those be?

ASU political science professor Valerie Hoekstra, who has taught constitutional rights, agreed with Barr that many parts of the current code could be questioned.

The largest problem Hoekstra and Barr saw with the code were rules 5-1.9 and 5-1.10, which control content on social networking and personal Web sites outside of ASU’s Web server.

Rule 5-1.9 states, “all Web pages or Web ‘groups’ such as Facebook, Myspace, etc. utilized by a candidate shall be approved by the Elections Department before posting. Any change made to a Web page after initial approval is subject to the rules and regulations of the ASASU Elections Department.”

Hoekstra said this rule is problematic for two reasons. First, it regulates off-campus activity, and second, it is prior restraint on political speech, which courts normally view as unconstitutional.

“There is very little that ASU can do to regulate off-campus speech,” Hoekstra said. “[Prior restraint] has always been considered the most burdensome form of regulation, and thus would face the toughest scrutiny by a court.  The state would have to show an overwhelming justification for imposing such a burden on free speech.”

Hoekstra said she is surprised no one has challenged this rule.

“Even high schools have difficulty enforcing these kinds of rules, let alone a university,” she said.

Rule 5-1.10 goes on to state, “Any Web site utilized for the purpose of campaigning that is hosted on a server outside of Arizona State University is still subject to the rules and regulations of the ASASU elections code.”

Barr commented on the two rules in an e-mail.

“This pre-approval of political speech, especially for Web pages and social network sites that have no connection to ASU, violates the First Amendment.” Barr said.

Barr said later in a phone conversation that the rules insisting approval of posters, as well as the Web, created a “wild elections code.”

“What they have right now is unconstitutional and unenforceable,” Barr said. “The notion that they have the student government review the content of material is mind blowing.” [emphasis added – EML]

Mind-blowing is one way to put it, although those of us on the beat might also call it entirely unsurprising (perhaps because we’ve already had our minds blown to smithereens). Just as unsurprising is the administrative response delivered by Director of Student Engagement (ugh) Dan Ashlock:

Ashlock did not have comments about the constitutionality of the code.

He cited rule 7-4.1, in which candidates are required to sign a candidate accountability form that said the student has read the code thoroughly, understands the laws, regulations and penalties set forth and will follow the rules as instructed.

In other words: the Constitution has no sway here, because candidates signed a form voiding those rights. So what, pray tell, is the source of all this madness?

Galvan believes the code has not been revised since it was adapted from the Associated Students of University of Arizona Elections Code during the spring 2006 semester.

Trust us, ASU – you might want our party reputation or our commencement speaker, but you definitely want nothing to do with our elections code. (As a side note, this assertion can’t be right – the ASUA elections code didn’t regulate Facebook groups until Spring 2007.)

In spite of the lengthy excerpts, this article should be required reading for incoming ASUA officials, as well as anyone who wants to write off the last few years of election mishaps as “isolated incidents.” More than anything, this shows that elections code absurdity is not the doing of any one man, but rather a manifestation of the regulatory mindset.

Here’s an idea: next year, try making an elections code that doesn’t trample over all sorts of basic civil liberties. We don’t want to have to call the lawyers in.

Election irregularities to slip by over spring break?

Posted in Campus, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 15 March 2009

This week’s spring break revelry may obliterate more than brain cells: there’s every indication that concern over this year’s biased ballots will be wiped away as cleanly as the last hours of a bad Cuervo bender by the time students come back to campus.

The ASUA elections commission wrapped up last week’s student government elections without reference to election irregularities that included a ballot question apparently written by its own sponsors, the appearance of write-in candidate Chris Nagata’s name directly above the “write-in” blank, and Elections Commissioner Kenny Ho’s decision to alter ballots during open voting in response to a complaint from presidential candidate Shane Cathers.

Although ASUA president Tommy Bruce gave an oblique response to the Wildcat‘s call for a special election under new supervision, Ho has yet to offer any public reply to concerns about the legitimacy of the election he managed, and student government officials are accepting the results and carrying on as usual.

“The elections commission will consider the results legitimate,” said sitting ASUA senator and Executive Vice-President elect Emily Fritze via email Friday. “Their reasoning is that there was no violation of the elections code. The only way that the results could possibly change would be if Mr. Cathers was to file a complaint with the Supreme Court.”

Nor are there any plans to remove Ho from office, says Fritze, though the Senate will likely review the elections code in the coming month. “Commissioner Ho dealt with something new in nature: no precedent of online voting for write-in candidates,” wrote Fritze. “The Senate will be revising and clarifying this section to address the write in instructions for online ballots.”

Presidential candidate Cathers, who received just 17 percent of last week’s vote, is concerned by the results but appears unlikely to appeal. “It is troubling that there was even a need to request a change on the ballot,” he said Friday. “Additionally, it is troubling that the ballot, which should be incontestably unbiased, could be considered biased by any person.”

But as for taking student government to task, it looks like Cathers is relying on students themselves. Asked if he supported a special election, Cathers told us “if the students feel that their government is not acting in the best interest of democracy or contrary to the genuine representation and values of themselves as a whole, then the students have the right to hold their government accountable and demand change.” He did not indicate that he is considering another complaint to the elections commission or an appeal to the ASUA Supreme Court.

Elections Commissioner Kenny Ho and candidate Chris Nagata have not yet responded to requests for comment.

Our own informal poll shows that our readers overwhelmingly reject the legitimacy of this election. But without a challenge from Cathers or further calls for a new election from the Wildcat,  it appears that ASUA will make no attempt to fix this flawed election after spring break.

ASUA Senate Meeting XXIII

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 12 March 2009

5-3.06  

No campaigning is allowed at any ASUA sponsored events not including Elections Commission sponsored events.  

Unless, of course, if you’re candidate (and Senator-elect) Eduardo Atjian, and you saunter in a few minutes late wearing your campaign shirt declaring, “VOTE ATJIAN.” You also get an exemption if you’re a sitting Senator, like Stephen Wallace, in which case you’re freely allowed to make the case for your candidacy to groups like Change for Change that present themselves before the Senate: “I’m currently running for reelection. . . if elected, I look forward to working with your organization.” This year, of course, the Elections Commission is helping; and so, while the memory of Rhonda Tubbs, who was punished after her supporters wore campaign paraphernalia to an ASUA Senate meeting, is but a vague recollection, I assure you that Messrs. Atjian and Wallace will face no retribution for their actions. 

The meeting itself was fairly uneventful:

– A chapter of Change for Change announced that they sought “a partnership” with ASUA, which we can hope means no more than another group soliciting funds from the Appropriations Board. 

– Committee reports have been essentially non-existent since their enactment in November 2008. Perhaps now is the time for the Senate to emulate their federal counterparts and enact a Committee on Committees

– “This Senate is going to make recommendations to the elections code to facilitate the process next year,” said Sen. Baker. This is good, but I really do wish that these sorts of issues had been taken into account back when the Senate approved the code last fall.

– The Collegiate Readership Program is inching ever closer to enactment. Sen. Fritze will soon present, along with Gannet representatives, offerings to placate the Daily Wildcat.

– President Bruce said something.

Bizarro! I’m helping! I’m helping YOU!

Posted in Culture, Politics, Uncategorized by Connor Mendenhall on 11 March 2009

Bizarro!When I suggested our elections regulations were written in Bizarro World, I did so half in jest. But as the tragicomic reign of elections commissioner Kenny Ho draws to a close, it feels more and more like the procedures of student government are being administered by Turtleface.

Today, the Daily Wildcat editorial board called the response to this year’s passel of election irregularities “gross malfeasance,” and called for “an immediate end to balloting, and for the scheduling of a special election to take its place, to be held under new supervision.” Allow me to second that call.

I’m not convinced that the elections commission was conscious of any bias when they wrote the ballot, and I imagine that they really did think they were helping with today’s intervention–such is the nature of the student government echo chamber. Indeed, as far as I can tell, Kenny Ho is a genuinely nice guy and earnest administrator who just doesn’t grasp the basic procedures of free and fair elections or rule of law. But giving a reasonably identical ballot to all voters, and refraining from intervention to change the ballot midway is one such basic procedure–and I don’t see how the commission can uphold any claim to legitimacy now that they’ve tampered with the ballots.

Not to mention the other fundamentals of democratic procedure that are sorely lacking in our system of student government. A glance at the guidelines of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions, which watches elections in the Balkans and eastern Europe, shows that we don’t even meet many of the minimum requirements for a legitimate system:

Respect the right to establish political parties.

Unfortunately, stringent regulations on campaign materials and displays prevent the formation of any viable political party system on campus.

Those responsible for violations of law should be held accountable in a timely
manner.

Not here: when the commissioner discovered year-old violations of the elections code by sitting officials, he told us “I really don’t see it as a big deal.”

The role of the Central Elections Commission (CEC) in connection with the issuing of detailed instructions should be clearly understood. The role of the CEC is not to act as a substitute legislator, but to respond to occurring needs for clarification by way of interpreting and supplementing the election regulations.

Election legislation should be stated in objective language. Interpretation of
election legislation should not be a matter of subjective opinion.

Nope. Our elections commissioner is granted the power to issue “final interpretation” of the code according to his own subjective opinion, and broad discretion on ballot design, the initiative and referendum process, finance reporting requirements, and the election timeline.

All election-related laws should be implemented and enforced non-selectively.

Sorry–when our elections commission doesn’t get what it wants, it changes the rules, as it did this year by extending the deadline to collect signatures for a campus referendum designed to benefit an organization with offices in ASUA!

The authority and process for [elections officials] to issue instructions in emergency
situations or on Election Day must be clearly stated and defined in the
electoral legislation.

Well, it seems we’re learning the value of this norm the hard way.

Ultimately, the legitimacy of any election rests with the voters who participate. So let us know either in this post or in our sidebar: if ASUA declines to call a new special election from scratch, will you consider today’s results legitimate?

Title allusion and Turtleface reference dispassionately dissected here. Enjoyable here in English and here in Spanish Portuguese, which is twice thrice as funny.

Changing Ballots in Midstream

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 11 March 2009

Idiocracy 2

As if there hadn’t already been enough elections madness for one year, the ballot itself has now been changed in media res:

Voters logging on to the student government’s Web site after yesterday afternoon to vote for the ASUA General Elections experienced something earlier voters had not – a changed ballot.

Shortly after a complaint by Presidential Candidate Shane Cathers to the ASUA Elections Commission, the wording under the area marked off for the presidential candidates was changed to make it more fair and unbiased, said Kenny Ho, Associated Students of the University of Arizona elections commissioner.

. . .

Ho said that it is protocol for a write-in candidate’s name to appear on the ballot, and that the Elections Code only states that a blank should be provided for a write-in candidate – not that the name should be absent altogether.

Protocol where? Ho cites no former ASUA cases, or any student government cases, in which the name of the write-in candidate appears on the ballot. None of the fifty states print the name of a write-in candidate on the ballot, nor does the federal government. It’s not even worth going through the rest of the world’s democracies, since the name “write-in” itself makes it very clear exactly what voters must do to make their vote count. If the Commission wanted to make Chris Nagata a “copy-paste” candidate, then they should have made that clear from the beginning.

It was not originally clear to the Elections Commission that the wording could be construed as biased, but now that the concerns have been brought to the organization’s attention, they believe they have done the right thing in changing the ballot, Ho said.

“We wanted it to be very generic,” he said. “We didn’t want it to sound like we were supporting any candidates.”

So, the Commission decided, to make sure that they don’t look like they’re biased, to just go ahead a print a write-in candidate’s name on the ballot (defeating the whole purpose), and, what’s more, provide step-by-step instructions to make sure that nobody voting for Nagata messes up their vote. Is that about right?

There is a silver lining to this story, though; we’re not just two voices crying in the wilderness anymore. From the Wildcat‘s editorial desk:

We should note that, based on extended interviews with both candidates, our recommendation for president was write-in candidate Nagata. Despite our support for him, we’re incensed that his candidacy would be handled so poorly by whoever was responsible for drafting the ballot, presumably election commissioner Ho.

Given that the signatures he collected were, in the judgment of the elections commissioner, inadequate to get him on the ballot, Nagata’s name should not appear. The construction of this year’s ballot implies an unacceptable bias in favor of Nagata on the part of current ASUA leadership

. . .

Those involved with ASUA constantly argue that the organization is relevant to today’s students, and in all fairness, many of their actions have an impact on our lives. However, these student leaders are being paid for their service and serve in our name, and as students we must demand that their selection is fair, clear and open. Of all of the campus organizations with which we are familiar, none has election procedures as Byzantine and corrupt as those of our student government.

. . .

The root of these continuing problems can only be that elections are entrusted to an all-powerful elections commissioner, with absolute discretion over not only the conduct of the election itself, but also the very code that governs the election and his own position,

Given the gross malfeasance that has characterized this election, we call for an immediate end to balloting, and for the scheduling of a special election to take its place, to be held under new supervision.

Further, we call on the ASUA Senate to immediately undertake the enactment of an amendment to the ASUA Constitution placing the elections code under the direct supervision of the senate, and for the enactment of a new code after adequate input from the student body.

Really, you should read the whole thing. I’m not exactly sure how this matches up with their positively fawning endorsements yesterday, but it’s good to see another media outlet speaking truth to “smooth elections.”

Let the Farce Begin

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 10 March 2009

Leading up to today’s election, there was a good deal of speculation over what exactly the write-in ballot would look like. After all, the Code only states that,

4-5.01

Every ballot shall contain one (1) blank space for every declared write-in candidate.

Yet as you can see below, Mr. Nagata got a good deal more than “one (1) blank space.”

Write-In Candidate

Perhaps there’s precedent for this; if there is, I’d be interested to hear about it. Yet outside of the Bizarro World that is ASUA, no “write-in” candidate gets their name put on the ballot, along with a description of how to properly write in their name. As Wikipedia pithily defines it,

A write-in candidate is a candidate in an election whose name does not appear on the ballot [emphasis added -EML], but for whom voters may vote nonetheless by writing in the person’s name.

Once you put the name on the ballot, you’ve entirely defeated the purpose of “write-in,” no matter what other requirements you may add.

As if that weren’t enough, it seems that the Elections Commission decided to go ahead and let PIRG write their own ballot question:

PIRG Question

In fact, you can even see the first-person plural in the question itself. In most democratic states, this sort of thing doesn’t happen, because it inherently sets up bias. You don’t only let business groups write ballot questions about taxes; you don’t reserve the right of designing ballot questions on marijuana to NORML. Elections agencies spend a good deal of time working out the wording of questions so that they are as unbiased as possible. Yet here in ASUA Land, we have no fear of PIRG designing the ballot — after all, they work right down the hall from us. What could possibly go wrong?

As a friendly reminder, here’s why you should check “no” on the PIRG question.

Five reasons why you should vote NO on PIRG

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 9 March 2009

1. It is inappropriate to use a mandatory fee to pay for a political organization. It’s one thing to offer club funds to political clubs on campus, money which is allocated primarily to encourage the proliferation of student organizations (an honorable cause). It is quite another thing to force students to pay directly for an organization that may be contrary to their own views. Even ASA, which focuses solely on student issues, is debatable from this standpoint; but PIRG focuses on far more than student issues — its call to “require utilities to produce 100% clean energy” is not only very debatable, but doesn’t exactly help the students who actually pay their own electricity bills.

The argument that PIRG is acceptable because it is “non-partisan” is fatuous — this blog is “nonpartisan,” but I’d hardly call it apolitical. I’d also like to see one instance where PIRG diverges from the Green Party platform. Calling your organization nonpartisan doesn’t necessarily make it so. Students would rightly be furious if Justice for All were allocated a $2 fee; changing the cause does not make the feeing any less repugnant.

2. PIRG money has a funny way of leaving campus. PIRG sells itself as a “student run” organization. Tell that to the students in Oregon, home to the oldest student PIRG in the country, OSPIRG. The organization first received funding with a $1 fee in 1971; yet recently, OSPIRG has been defunded at several campuses. The reason? From the Daily Emerald:

In October, student government leaders at PSU announced that its OSPIRG chapter would no longer have access to its $128,000 budget allocation from student fees because the majority of that funding is spent on salaries for professional activists off campus, which doesn’t meet its mandate as a “student” group. OSPIRG leaders there are trying to change its status to a student service rather than a student group to get access to that money, a model similar to the University of Oregon chapter.

The Oregon Commentator also has a great write-up on its blog:

Currently, OSPIRG (the student one) receives roughly $120,000 of student funds. Most of it goes to OSPIRG’s Portland office to pay eight trained staff members. Only $25,000 stays on campus, and of that, $23,000 is the salary of a paid “campus organizer.” That leaves $2,000 for actual campus events. At last week’s budget hearing, when asked what OSPIRG had directly brought to campus, one OSPIRG member could only meekly bring up last year’s screening of Sicko.

For that reason, the ASUO Senate voted to defund the OSPIRG chapter at U. Oregon just a few weeks ago. OSPIRG isn’t just a bad egg, either; this funneling is an inherent part of the PIRG set-up:

. . . about 10 percent of the money goes to USPIRG, the national chapter, where it’s used to lobby on the federal level.

3. PIRG cheated their way onto the ballot. You can read the background here, but the story boils down to this:

This paragraph alters the former policy – again, not spelled out, because regulations matter only when it comes to Facebook and MySpace – in which referendums, like candidates, had to have their signatures in no later than two weeks before the general election date.

What was the problem with that policy? Well, according to Commissioner Ho, because the two-week deadline has already passed, “I have extended the deadline until one week before [the general election].” So, what’s wrong with letting the old deadline pass?

Because there is one organization out seeking signatures for a referendum – PIRG. For some time now, they have been soliciting signatures in an attempt to add a $4-per-year fee to UA tuition. If they had the adequate signatures, this would not be an issue. However, they apparently do not; and rather than accepting the failure of their campaign, they have instead chosen to modify the preexisting standard.

Let us not mince words about what has happened. PIRG, an organization with offices within ASUA, is seeking to implement by referendum a ballot initiative to grant themselves a $4-per-year fee. When they did not get the necessary amount of signatures in by the de facto deadline, the Elections Commissioner instead chose to change the deadline. What’s more, when Sen. Andre Rubio asked if this change to a one-week period was just for this election, Commissioner Ho responded in the affirmative. This is a one-time deal, with a very specific objective: get PIRG on the ballot, by any means necessary. Mr. Ho also affirmed that referendum groups cannot campaign until the signatures have been verified by the Commission, which would make this email highly suspect. The email, which we received on February 14 (some valentine that was), also mentioned that, “[PIRG is] working to get funding on campus by adding $2.00 per student per semester to the election ballot.” This would seem to indicate solicitation for far longer than the two weeks specified by this memorandum.

I’m willing to hear an alternate explanation for why this “clarification” in the elections code was so necessary if PIRG wasn’t behind it; so far, I have yet to hear a plausible story.

4. We already have a fee-funded student lobbying organization on campus. ASA describes itself as,

a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization directed and funded by Arizona’s public university students. ASA works for affordable, accessible higher education in Arizona by advocating to elected officials and running campaigns on issues important to students. Recent issues ASA has worked on include fighting tuition increases, increasing state-based financial aid, and passing legislation to reduce the cost of textbooks.

PIRG describes itself as,

a non-partisan student-run, student-funded organization that represents a direct voice for student issues in our local and national government. What makes AZPIRG so powerful is that we hire our own professional staff-scientists, lawyers, and organizers that help us research solutions, write bills, run local and statewide campaigns, and lobby our politicians in Phoenix and Washington DC full time on our behalf.

It’s surprising that ASA isn’t more upset about having its territory trampled on, let alone the plagiarism of its self-description.

5. PIRG doesn’t pay its workers. Right now, the PIRG Fund is facing a class action lawsuit from former canvassers. From the official complaint:

Plaintiffs allege on behalf of themselves and all similarly-situated Defendant employees (“Nationwide FLSA Collective Plaintiffs”) that the Fund unlawfully classified Plaintiffs and Nationwide FLSA Collective Plaintiffs as exempt from overtime payments under Federal law and failed and refused to pay Plaintiffs and members of the Nationwide FLSA Collective Plaintiffs overtime pay for overtime worked, minimum wages for all work performed, and also that the Fund failed to keep time records as required by law.

Furthermore, the PIRG Fund, while ostensibly supporting “progressive” causes, nevertheless worked tirelessly to prevent the unionization of its workers.

The Loopholes Win Again

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 23 February 2009

Donut RegulationsWhere there’s a regulation there’s a loophole. A few days ago, I posted on a picture of candidates Emily Fritze, Gabriella Ziccarelli, and Chris Nagata, citing the ban on political party formation.

Yet the clause in the Code reads as follows:

Only one candidate’s name may appear on any piece of campaign material as defined by this Code.

The candidates, coyly, did not tag the pictures; hence, there are technically no ‘names’ associated with the image other than Sen. Fritze’s. The image — while clearly drawing party lines — is perfectly legitimate.

Yet this is not the first party to be formed on campus; already, in addition to what might be called the ‘Establishment Party,’ we have an upstart group in ‘Rock Ur Vote‘ (spelling, woefully, in context), consisting of Senate candidates Jasimine Evans, Ryan Klenke, and Leo Yamaguchi. Former President Erin Hertzog came to power as the head of the ‘Team Yellow‘, and only two years ago the school witnessed the rise of Team Red.

Freedom of association also takes a step forward with the formation what can only be described as the first political action committee within the UA, the Campus Coalition for Change:

The Campus Coalition for Change is a newly formed grassroots mobilization of students from across campus. We are not a club, we are not a corporation, we are not affiliated with ASUA or any other campus organization.

Simply put, we are students who share the same vision for our school and a desire for a student government that represents our values. For too long, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona has been an exclusive club for a narrow portion of the student population; that ends today. For too long, ASUA has had the reputation of favoring the benefit of the few over the many; that ends today. For too long, ASUA elected officials have not been accountable to or representative of their electorate; that ends today.

We, the students, have the power to change the face of ASUA. That effort begins today.

We are bringing together students from all over campus who are willing to dedicate their collective time and votes to electing ASUA candidates that will truly embody these values:

1. Elected officials who show strong, visible, sustained support of progressive programming, policies, and people on campus
2. Elected officials who are representative of the diversity that exists at The University of Arizona
3. Elected officials who fight for transparency in government and active engagement with the electorate
4. Elected officials who will personally and actively lobby the state legislature to increase funding and support for higher education
5. Elected officials who facilitate fundamental change in the culture of ASUA and on the greater campus towards an inclusive and safe community for all

The insistent progressivism is distasteful (and, with respect to their fourth ‘value’, quite redundant), but that’s far outweighed by the good news that coalitions are actually forming on campus, completely independent of the Elections Commission and subject to none of its regulations. The CCC (coincidence?) is free to put up posters of their own choosing, to allow its Facebook group to continue into perpetuity, to spend as much money on outreach and publicity as it is able, and to create fake pages that resemble the ASUA ballot.

The lesson from this, of course, is that there will be always be loopholes, and no matter how loathsome the democratic process may seem, it can never be quelled except by the most extreme force. Rather than designing a Code reactively, creating new blanket regulations in response to every unhappy circumstance during a given election, a Code should instead be based on abstract principles; namely, those basic values – including freedom of association – upon which free elections are based.

Image courtesy of Flickr user John Salzberg