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Student senate highlights need for clarified election code as they decide grievance sanctions for executive board members

Members of the AS Student Senate and AS Executive Board discussed whether or not the four AS Executive Board members broke the election code following grievances being filed against them. // Photo by Max Leidig by Max Leidig The Associated Students Student Senate met for the final time in the 2018-2019 academic year on Tuesday, June 4, where they were tasked with deciding on the proper action for members of the Associated Students Executive Board who had grievances filed against them for allegedly violating the AS Election Code in the spring general AS elections. Grievances were filed against current board members Millka Solomon, Levi Eckman, Camilla Mejia and Anne Lee by former 2019-2020 AS presidential candidate Abdul Malik Ford on May 6. At the senate meeting, Solomon, Eckman and Mejia were found not responsible for violating section IVc of the AS Election Code, which states “AS employees may not, as employees or individuals, endorse candidates.” Lee, AS vice president for student life, was found responsible for violating the code by creating a social media post endorsing three candidates running for positions on the board, all of whom won. Originally, the AS Elections Board asked members of the Executive Board to decide themselves whether or not they broke the code at the Friday, May 31 Executive Board meeting. Board members said they felt uncomfortable with judging their own conduct instead of having an objective body do so. “I don’t like that I’m to decide whether I violated it or not,” Levi Eckman, AS VP for academic affairs, stated during the May 31 meeting. To avoid a potential conflict of interest, AS vice president for diversity Camilla Mejia recommended that the AS Student Senate be tasked with determining whether board members broke the election code. The senate was not required to participate but agreed to undertake the task. Ford attended the June 4 AS Student Senate meeting to express his concerns related to his grievances, particularly about how board members would be disciplined after allegedly tampering in the election by endorsing another candidate. He also explained his concern about a resolution being reached with only one week left in office for the accused board members. “I just want to say that I’m super, super disappointed that this is happening so late in the game, almost an entire month after this process has been over. I am exhausted. I’m just tired of this whole process,” Ford explained. Ford went on to express the need for a restructure of the election code in order to prevent unfair advantages among candidates in the future. Following Ford’s statements and lengthy discussion, the senate passed two separate motions regarding the grievances filed. The first motion was regarding the conduct of Lee, Mejia, Eckman and Solomon for sharing a document criticizing Ford. The document was created by AS student senator for Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies Dayjha McMillan. The document criticized Ford’s leadership skills and detailed McMillan’s negative experiences about his alleged lack of action to combat homophobia and transphobia within Western’s Black community. The first motion passed with 12 votes stating that Lee, Mejia, Eckman and Solomon were not in violation of the code for sharing McMillan’s document, with six senators abstaining from the vote. The senate decided that it wasn’t a violation since the board members were not directly endorsing a candidate by sharing the statement. The election code does outline that board members cannot campaign for or against a candidate in section 3, IV regarding endorsements.  Senator at-large Courtney Yoshiyama questioned what it actually means to endorse a candidate as currently stated in the code. The senate and board members in attendance came to the conclusion that the current election code needs serious revisions in order to avoid these judgement decisions in the future. In the meeting, Lee defended their choice to share McMillan’s document criticizing Ford. “To support Dayjha and to stand in solidarity with her meant a lot more than potentially breaking a code or seeming unneutral as an elected official,” Lee said.   At the meeting, McMillan and Ford discussed an interaction that took place after the AS candidate debate on April 24. McMillan said Ford allegedly yelled at her after she confronted him about his leadership. Solomon and others supported McMillan’s claims, while Ford denied yelling and said he was speaking toward her. McMillan stated she knew she was breaking the election code, but was willing to face the consequences in order to stand up and share her voice. Since McMillan is an AS student senator, the grievances filed against her will be handled by the AS Personnel Office at a later time. Both McMillan and Eckman abstained from voting at the senate meeting due to having grievances filed against them by Ford. The second motion involved Lee’s creation of a Facebook post directly endorsing then-candidates Grace Drechsel, Trever Mullins and Lani DeFiesta. Lee openly admitted to breaking the code by endorsing candidates publicly. Prior to the senate meeting, the Elections Board found Lee’s endorsement statement to be a violation of the code, but left the sanctions to be decided by another body. Drechsel, Mullins and DeFiesta were found in violation of the election code for sharing Lee's post on their social media and each released public statements to the campus community. According to the AS Election Code, the Elections Board does not have jurisdiction over board members, ultimately leaving the decision regarding Lee’s grievances and sanctions up to the senate. Over an hour of discussion went by before the second motion passed in a 15-1 vote with one abstention. The Senate found Lee guilty for endorsing candidates, officially finding them in violation of the code. Lee’s sanction for violating the code will be to spend an hour providing feedback on the current election code by Monday. This sanction was proposed by AS senator Nicole Wood to ensure that the code would see proper revisions to prevent endorsement violations from happening in the future. Lee was not required to release a public statement regarding their violation, although it was required of three elected board members who shared the Facebook post.   Ford responded in a written statement to The Western Front expressing his frustration with the current AS Elections Board policies and the time it took to address his grievances filed against current board members. “The justification was weak and it revealed the plethora of holes in the AS system and rules. Not being able to make decisions in a timely manner really detracted from my experience here at WWU and was very damaging and discouraging as a leader,” Ford said. Massey-Halber defended the time it took for action to be taken against board members, and said it was likely this election had the highest number of grievances filed in the history of the AS elections. Over 20 total grievances were filed including the nine filed by Ford, according to Massey-Halber. “As for why it took so much time to get the word out, I had to write 8 statements that had to be edited and approved by our Election Board,” Massey-Helber said in a written statement to The Western Front. “We started work on the statements on May 10, the day after the hearings, and sent all 8 of them out on May 24, so we conducted that entire process in two weeks,” he said. Massey-Halber added that while he is paid for his work, the rest of the Elections Board are unpaid volunteers. Lee’s sanction must be completed by Monday, June 10 to send in suggested revisions to the AS elections code as decided by the AS Student Senate. In a written statement to The Western Front, Ford said he was disappointed with the outcome of the grievances and that he was further criminalized in the process of attempting to hold AS employees accountable. “There shouldn’t be a problem with me trying to hold leaders accountable and seek justice, there should be a problem with the system of AS in general and the rules, processes and current leaders,” Ford said. “A just outcome would have been investigating just how much the sway could’ve been that they’ve had on the election. Admitting that the elections would have gone a lot differently if they were instead following the rules.”


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