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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Whirlwind election: AS proceedings said to contradict rules and fairness

Candidates spoke up about this year’s grievance hearing not following elections code

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the controversy with the 2020 Western Associated Students elections. Read parts one, two and three. Part five will be published over the following days.

By Teya Heidenreich

Quote by Selome Zerai saying "We kind of threw Ina's interpretation in the trash and made our own, which I thought was really weird and inappropriate because Ina was the one who wrote the code"
//graphic by Teya Heidenreich

In this year’s elections, during which candidates Abdul Malik Ford, Nate Jo, Nora Harren and Nicole Ballard were involved in two legislative hearings, candidates accused the review processes of being unfair and not following the Associated Students Election Code.

The origin of Ford’s grievance was his belief that candidates violated the Election Code. This hinged on the disparity between what AS Elections Coordinator Ina LaGrandeur told Ford about endorsements and the way they were actually carried out during the election.

LaGrandeur told Ford that clubs had to hold a meeting with all candidates present before endorsing any of them. Other candidates interpreted the Election Code to mean that a meeting was not required.

Ford said LaGrandeur’s word was law during the active campaign period, which was why a meeting was held with every candidate in April to explain the code. Zerai, who was AS vice president for activities during the election and subsequently was on the Appeals Panel, said the appeals process was confusing.

“There was a weird caveat in the code that basically said the appeals panel can go over [LaGrandeur’s] head and make their own interpretation of the election code policy,” Zerai said. “So we basically kind of threw Ina’s interpretation in the trash and made our own, which I thought was really weird and inappropriate because Ina was the one who wrote the code, Ina explained what the code was and we voted on the code back in April.”

The AS Election Code was linked in the documents section of meeting minutes for the 2019-20 school year, which are available on the AS website, for the April 8 meeting that Zerai referenced.

According to section 3.XV.a. of the Elections Code, “The interpretation of this Code is primarily the responsibility of the Elections Coordinator, and all questions or matters of uncertainty should be directed to the Elections Coordinator. When the Election Board or the Election Appeals Panel are in session, their respective chairs are the final authority on the interpretation of this code in regard to business that is before their respective bodies.”

Hunter Stuehm, the current AS communications director, offered a different point of view of the coordinator’s role in an email to The Western Front.

“It is inaccurate to characterize the AS Elections Coordinator as the ‘final rule’ on interpretation of the AS Elections Code,” he wrote. “Instead, the AS Elections Coordinator is a resource for candidates for matters relating to the code, interpreting the code from their personal understanding as the code’s steward. 

“However, it is possible for the AS Elections Coordinator to make honest mistakes in interpreting the code, and as such, the grievance process exists to allow others (i.e. the Elections Board and Appeals Panel) to interpret the code and determine if it was violated. The respective chairs of the Board and Panel have the final authority of interpretation of the code once they have been invoked.”

Jo, Harren and Ballard said there were many violations of the Election Code and instances of unfairness in grievance proceedings.

Harren said in her appeal that, since Elections Board actions were final, AS Election Board Chair Nathalie Wagler’s original dismissal of the grievances should have been honored.

Harren and Ballard also argued that they were unable to see the grievance documents prior to the hearing in order to prepare.

Ballard said in her appeal that she was unfairly lumped in with Jo and Harren as a single party in the grievance hearings. 

“We were expected to speak as a group and were not given space to express our individual experiences,” she wrote in her appeal.

Harren won her position by 13 votes and Jo won his by 18, but Ballard won by 604 votes. 

“I have spent three years in the AS and engaging in advocacy work and gaining the skills/knowledge necessary for this role,” Ballard said in her appeal. “I stand by my platform and I am proud of the election that I ran. To say that I only won by 604 votes because of one single endorsement invalidates my past work, advocacy, passion and countless unpaid hours that I donated to the AS.”

After all three candidates were disqualified in the grievance hearing, Ford and Wagler texted Ballard saying she should appeal the decision, according to Ballard’s appeal.

Nate Jo resigned as president the same day they took office. What happens next is still unresolved.

Jo 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 fourth of a five-part series.

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

Part 2: AS timing rules repeatedly broken

Part 3: AS candidates say connections mattered

This has been 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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