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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Whirlwind elections: AS timing rules repeatedly broken

A main complaint from candidates about this year’s AS general elections was that timing rules were not followed

This is the second in a five-part series about the controversy with the 2020 Western Associated Students elections. Parts three, four and five will be published over the following days. Read part one here.

By Teya Heidenreich

a quote from Nicole Ballard saying "This grievancce was invalid and should not have even been heard by the committee"
//Graphic by Teya Heidenreich

During this year’s Associated Students general elections, candidates Nate Jo and Abdul Malik Ford battled for the AS president position. When Jo, as well as Nora Harren and Nicole Ballard, who were candidates for other positions, received endorsements from Shred the Contract club, it sparked a month of conflict, three disqualifications, reversal of the disqualifications, a resignation and conflicting accusations at each stage.

The deadlines outlined in the Election Code came up multiple times.

All three dis(and re)qualified candidates said Ford’s grievance should never have been heard because he missed deadlines. 

During the hearing Jo, Harren and Ballard appealed their disqualifications saying that first, according to Election Code section 3.VI.d., grievances must be filed between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. within a school day of discovering the violation. Second, official grievances were only supposed to be accepted until 5 p.m. on May 12.

Ford’s objections to endorsements announced on May 5 were submitted on May 12 at 6:57 p.m., according to Harren’s appeal.

“This grievance was invalid and should not have even been heard by the committee,” Ballard said in her appeals document, noting that the endorsements were received on May 5. 

Although the official grievance was filed on May 12, Ford said in his grievance that he told Ina LaGrandeur, the elections coordinator, about the endorsements from Shred the Contract that same day. LaGrandeur consulted AS Board Program Coordinator Annie Byers, who sent an email to candidates clarifying endorsement guidelines in the election code.

Ford asked LaGrandeur about the grievance process and requested the proper documents on May 8, as soon as he heard the results, he said. All three candidates he filed grievances against won their respective positions. 

Byers was responsible for forwarding the grievances to AS Election Board Chair Nathalie Wagler. On May 16, Wagler responded to Ford in a text message that she had not received the grievances, according to screenshots provided by Ford in his statement at the appeals hearing. 

Ford said in a statement to the AS Review that one of the arguments against him, which accused him of being untimely in submitting his grievances, was irrelevant. 

LaGrandeur sent him the grievance documents 22 hours after he requested them. Five hours after receiving the documents, he submitted them to Byers.

“I did extensive research into AS forms and anywhere I could possibly find them so I could submit them as soon as possible,” Ford said. “And they were nowhere online. So the only way I could get them was if I went physically to campus — which wasn’t even open, so I couldn’t have done that — or got them from the elections coordinator.”

Hunter Stuehm, AS communications director, said in an email to the Western Front that staff was not expected to be constantly available, which caused some of the timing discrepancies.

“Byers, Executive Board Program Coordinator, provided official grievance forms to the AS Elections Coordinator on May 5, 2020 via email,” he wrote. “The Associated Students will not speculate as to why documents were not sent to Mr. Ford until May 9th — 22 hours after he requested them. However, staff availability could be a contributing factor. Student staff within the ASWWU are not expected to be available all the time, as they balance their academic and personal responsibilities. 

“It is our expectation that messages to ASWWU student staff are responded to in about a day, which is what occurred in this situation. Regarding transmission of grievances to the Elections Board chair: Ms. Byers transmitted all official grievances to Nathalie Wagler on May 20, 2020 via email. Transmission was unintentionally delayed due to staff unavailability.”

Ford also argued that LaGrandeur shared the responsibility to submit a grievance form about violations of the Election Code; according to section 3.VI.a., an affected party, candidate or the elections coordinator may file an official grievance.

Stuehm said LaGrandeur could have done so, but was not required to, in an email to the Front.

“The code is explicit in that the AS Elections Coordinator may file an official grievance should they deem that action appropriate, but is not in any way compelled,” Stuehm said. “That judgement is based on their understanding of the code, the context of the alleged violation, and if they determine the alleged violation would undermine the integrity or fairness of the election.”

Instead, LaGrandeur appealed the grievance board’s decision to disqualify the three candidates, according to Ballard’s appeals panel document.

“The untimely filing of the grievance by candidate Abdul-Malik Ford after the loss [sic] the 2020 AS Spring elections was not ethical and should have been dismissed according to this section of the code,” she wrote. “According to candidate Ford, the social media instance of Shred the Contract endorsing candidates occurred on 5/5. A grievance was not filed until 5/11. This is a clear violation of the election code. The grievance should have been dismissed as a result.”

Ford said in a text message to the Western Front that he did not delay filing by choice, but instead, he did not have access to the forms.

On May 22, Wagler sent an email dismissing Ford’s grievances because of insufficient information in the Election Code about how clubs should endorse candidates, according to Harren, Ballard and Jo’s appeals documents. 

Ford responded that he had been misinformed and sent Wagler the screenshot of his text conversation with LaGrandeur, according to the documents. Wagler said in an email provided in Ford’s appeals statement that she had not been aware of Ford and LaGrandeur’s conversation and that there would be a formal grievance hearing after all.

The grievance hearing took place June 4, nearly a month after the endorsements. According to Harren’s appeal, the grievance hearing was 20 days after Wagler received the grievances, which also violated the election code. 

Section 3.VI.e says that the Elections Board will hold a grievance hearing within four school days of the grievance being forwarded to the Board. It also says that each party to the grievance would have the option of confidentially disqualifying one member of the Elections Board from the grievance hearing and that all actions by the Elections Board other than disqualification were final. 

According to Harren and Ballard’s appeals, they were not extended the option of confidentially disqualifying someone, while Jo and Ford were, according to screenshots of emails provided in the documents.

“Validating this grievance [which holds no grounds in any violation of the AS Election Code] and invalidating the votes of a student body is setting the precedent that the popular vote of students holds little value,” Harren said in her appeal, “and that those votes, thus those voices, can be ignored.

“It additionally sets the precedent that democratic processes are easily void in this institution, despite procedural errors. That is a legacy that folks on this board will carry forward. To invalidate the vote of the student body, it needs to be shown that without a shadow of a doubt that there are grounds for disqualification. This is not possible based on the facts of this situation.”

Jo and Shred the Contract declined to speak with the Western Front. Harren and Ballard did not respond to requests for comment, and a request sent to LaGrandeur was answered by AS Communications Director Hunter Stuehm, who said LaGrandeur was no longer in her role and he would comment on her behalf. Wagler responded that her position with the Elections Board was over, and she wasn’t sure she’d have anything new to add, but would consider email questions. Wagler has not responded to a July 5 request for a phone interview.

This story is the second of a five-part series.

Part 1: Uncertainty over endorsements leads to AS election controversy at WWU

This has been part 2: AS timing rules repeatedly broken

Part 3: AS candidates say connections mattered

Part 4: AS proceedings said to contradict rules and fairness

Part 5: Amid controversies, position of AS president up in the air

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