AS Beat Reporter
A new Associated Students bill that included some modifications to the university elections process has been vetoed by AS President Harrison Weber before the changes would go into effect for the spring elections season.
“To allow the bill and the elections code to remain as is leaves the Association- and myself personally, as Chief Executive Officer- open to possible legal challenge for First Amendment rights to free speech,” Weber said in a written statement issued Monday evening.
The alleged violations of free speech, according to Weber, include a new clause that prohibits current elected and executive officials from using their title to endorse candidates or parties. Time constraints concerning campaigning have also become points of contention.
“Though the intention of the A.S. Elections Committee and the Legislative Council was and is to ensure a more fair elections process in which no person or party holds an unfair advantage, these regulations do not serve to that end,” Weber said.
The vetoed bill had been drafted by AS Elections Committee and was approved with unanimous consent on Feb. 8 by the Legislative Council. Many of the regulations that prompted Weber’s veto had been approved and implemented by AS in years prior to the current school year, including regulations prohibiting candidates and campaigns from using content deemed offensive, abusive or inappropriate. However, in an interview with The Bottom Line, Weber said he would continue to veto any elections bill approved by the Legislative Council he believed violated the First Amendment.
Elections Committee Chair Courtney Axner said the committee was disappointed and surprised to learn the elections code was vetoed, particularly because Weber had been closely involved with the drafting of the bill. According to Axner, the banning of endorsements by elected officials was written so that students would not misperceive an endorsement by an elected official as an endorsement by AS.
“The rule change was made to help protect the Association,” said Axner.
The endorsement clause initially received criticism from AS Student Advocate General Beau Shaw, who believed the changes were inconsistent with traditional state and federal elections laws.
“I think they should extend to our campus which is, under my understanding, a government entity,” Shaw said. “I don’t see why there should be some kind of exemption from federal and state law about endorsements, which allow politicians to include their title in endorsements.”
In his issued statement Weber referenced federal elections rules and cited Supreme Court cases like Citzens United v. Federal Elections Committee and Buckley v. Valero, which are upheld as the hallmarks of American free speech in election and campaigning.
“While fairness in the campaign process is an admirable pursuit,” Weber said. “fairness is a subjective term that cannot be prioritized over an individual’s right to protected free speech.”
Indeed, the issue of “fairness” in campus elections has been grounds for conversation at the University of California Santa Barbara. Written into the preamble of the vetoed AS elections bill reads, “Elections Code must reflect the fairness of the Elections process as directed by code.”
“We take into consideration what would be most fair for the candidates who are running,” said AS Elections Committee member Lindsay Vong.
“Anything that went kind of not smoothly in years past or the year before, we can iron all the kinks that happened and have a smoother election.”
These kinks, referred to by Vong, alludes to the events of last year’s elections campaign when members of the Open People’s Party were disqualified after an AS investigation concluded that OPP members had provided alcohol laced jell-o shots to garner more votes from students.
Despite the lack of an officially approved elections code in AS, Gauchos will still be able to exercise their civic duty this spring quarter. AS elections campaigning and candidate forums officially begin week three and elections are held online through GOLD during week four. Elections results are revealed Thursday evening of week four.