by Laura Place
The Western Front will continue to report on this story as it develops and more sources become available.
Former candidate for Associated Students President, Abdul Malik Ford, has filed nine official grievances against current AS employees and fellow election candidates. Ford alleged that the nine individuals broke the AS election code, either by endorsing candidates or campaigning against him during the election.
Ford lost the presidential race by 124 votes to Lani DeFiesta on Friday, May 3. The grievances were filed on Monday, May 6, against newly-elected AS executive board members DeFiesta, Trever Mullins and Grace Drechsel, current AS board members Millka Solomon, Camilla Mejia, Levi Eckman and Anne Lee, and AS employees Pauline Elevazo and Dayjha McMillan.
Section IV of the 2019 election code, which was recently amended, states that AS employees may not “as employees or individuals, endorse candidates,” and “may not, even as individuals, work on a campaign for or against a candidate, with the exception of their own as a filed and eligible candidate.”
The code does not address whether shares, retweets or likes of endorsements or posts campaigning against candidates on social media also violate the election code. AS Representation and Engagement Programs Director Nora Harren said this whether these actions violate the code will be up to the interpretation of the AS Elections Board.
Punitive actions for violating the code may include, but are not limited to, a $25 fee or disqualification of a candidate, according to the election code document. Harren said there are several other actions the AS Elections Board may choose to take when addressing grievances.
“Other possible resolutions that can come through the grievance process include, but are not limited to, sending the grievance to the personnel committee, dismissing the grievance, request for public apology, request for an apology to other candidates, disqualification from the electoral race and/or other resolutions that the AS Elections Board decides on in dealing with the grievance filed,” Harren said in an email.
On April 29, a document written by McMillan titled “A Call Out Built from Love” criticizing Ford’s leadership abilities was shared multiple times on Twitter and Facebook. McMillan is AS Student Senator of Fairhaven College, and said they filed an initial grievance against themself prior to posting the statement. The document detailed McMillan’s negative experiences in giving Ford feedback about his alleged lack of action to combat homophobia and transphobia within Western’s Black community.
“I am saying all of this because I want people, who are voting, to know what kind of candidate [Ford] is,” McMillan’s statement read. “I do not believe he is equipped nor qualified to be AS president. I think he has a lot of learning to do before he can honestly say that he can support the entire campus.”
The statement received heavy pushback from supporters of Ford on social media. It was also shared by several AS employees, including four of the seven members of the current AS board of directors.
Eckman, AS vice president of academic affairs, defended his decision to share McMillan’s document. He said he saw it as a way to spread the word about McMillan’s experience with Ford, and did not think it qualified as a violation of the election code.
Eckman acknowledged that sharing the document could be perceived as a violation of the election code, but that a system of checks and balances exists within the AS to ensure fair review of grievances. He said the grievance board does not include AS board members or AS student senators.
“It’s completely at-large students that make these choices… It’s completely autonomous of us.” Eckman said.
Ford said his goal in filing the grievances was to hold members of the AS Board accountable for not adhering to election policies.
“It’s important for me to file these grievances because I was deprived of the opportunity of a fair election process. I, as well as others have been affected by these violations and it’s shocking that absolutely nothing has been done about it,” Ford said in a written statement to The Western Front.
Lee, AS VP for Student Life, announced their official endorsements of candidates DeFiesta, Drechsel, Mullins and Yesugen Battsengel in a Facebook post on Thursday, May 2. According to the election code, this violates the policy regarding candidate endorsements by current AS employees.
In a written statement to The Western Front, Lee said they consciously made the choice to break election policy and publicly endorse candidates.
“I did what I needed to do to show solidarity with the [Queer, Transgender and People of Color] community and the concerns shared by QTPOC students. I’d rather make a statement that breaks a code (a code that people – the board and the [Representation & Engagement Programs] wrote) than remain neutral as someone who’s serving in a leadership role. I am accountable to the students and am facing what’s coming because of my choice, and I stand by it,” Lee said.
AS President-elect DeFiesta is implicated in one of Ford’s grievance filings for sharing Lee’s endorsement on her Instagram account on May 2. As an actively campaigning candidate in the election, DeFiesta said she did not believe sharing Lee’s endorsement, despite Lee’s status as an AS employee, would break the election code.
“Nowhere does it say I, as a candidate, can’t share an endorsement in support of my campaign,” DeFiesta said in a written statement to The Western Front.
Prior to his official filing, Ford publicized his concerns about alleged campaign code violations in a document titled “The Rigged Election,” shared via Facebook on Saturday, May 4. In the document, Ford compiled screenshots of social media posts that he claimed were examples of election code violations, as well as correspondences about his concerns with AS board program coordinator Annie Byers and AS elections coordinator Alec Willis.
Mejia and Solomon did not respond to emailed requests to comment on the grievances filed against them. Elevazo could not be reached in time for print publication. Drechsel and Mullins declined to comment until after their grievance hearings.
This story was updated on May 8 from its print version to include responses from AS Representation and Engagement Programs Director Nora Harren and AS VP-elect Trever Mullins.
This story was updated on May 8 to correct the description of the document created by Dayjha McMillan – the document discussed both homophobia and transphobia in Western’s Black community, not just homophobia.