Disassociated Students: Low voter turnout, campaign misconduct and negligence

Negligence, campaign misconduct and a mysteriously changing election code are some of the latest allegations that continue to plague the 2012 Associated Students election at Santa Monica College. The results announcing the new members were delayed after candidates alleged “official complaints” against each other during election week, according to the AS.

While complaints are commonplace—last year there were 10 compared to the two filed this year—the circumstances are raising eyebrows about the conduct of the organization, namely the omission of bylaws restricting the endorsement of candidates.

These bylaws were “mysteriously omitted,” according to presidential candidate Ernie Sevilla—who lost in last week’s race—in order to protect the candidates who may have violated them, including incoming President Parker Jean.

The incoming officers including President Jean are predominantly made up of members from the “Paradigm Shift” slate, which was endorsed by outgoing president Harrison Wills. The president campaigned on behalf of Jean, who is his roommate, and appeared with him at various protests in the weeks leading up to the election.

Candidates on the Wills-endorsed “Paradigm Shift” slate won 11 out of the 12 positions they campaigned for.

The Corsair reported on Wills’ campaigning and endorsement of Jean, but was asked to retract it later by Benny Blaydes, the Associated Students Counselor and advisor to the Inter-Club Council. Blaydes maintained that any endorsement or campaigning on behalf of a candidate by a current officer was in violation of the election bylaws.

However, at the AS meeting the week of the elections, Associate Dean of Student Life Deyna Hearn announced that bylaws were different this year, citing a new election code that omitted the prohibitive rules.

Hearn appeared perplexed. “It appears it was changed at some point, I don’t know when or by who [sic],” she said. She stated that the current officers were allowed to endorse and campaign on the behalf of candidates.

Sevilla alleges that at some point the code was changed by the Associated Students to protect Wills and Jean who could face disqualification if found in violation. The Corsair was able to obtain through Sevilla a copy of the original campaign bylaws before the revision was posted.

Due to accusations of campaign misconduct, official results for the election were delayed for three days, with final results being announced Monday May 7.

Jesse Ramirez, the newly elected Director of Publicity who ran on the “Paradigm Shift” slate, tore down an election flier at the Veteran’s Resource Center advertising Sevilla’s “Hope, Experience and Change” slate, which Ramirez claimed was posted in violation of AS campaign laws.

“It was one poster; I brought it down unofficially,” said Ramirez at a special election board meeting on May 7. “It was brought down unofficially by me.”

Ramirez then claimed that he rehung the poster on the wall along with a flier from his campaign slate.

Election code 13.10 states that any involvement in the unauthorized removal of campaign material by candidates or campaign workers will result in the disqualification of said violators.

The controversy, which was discussed at length during the meeting, did not result in a disqualification for Ramirez.

Ramirez later commented on the entirety of the election process and the AS office. “I don’t mean to offend anybody here, but I’m not taking this too serious [sic].”

Ramirez, like all of the other AS officers, receives a stipend of $1,000 per year for his services to the board.

Many AS members also blame the low voter turn out—1,765 votes cast out of roughly 30,000 eligible voters—on the negligence of current AS Election and Inter Club Council Chair David Stavis.

The 2012 AS elections were originally planned to be publicly funded by SMC, meaning candidates would not be allowed to spend their own money, and that the school would provide publicity for them.

But a week before the election, the AS decided to use last year’s policy, and allow privately funded campaigns in addition to supplying all candidates with $75 to spend.

“I had a lot of really ambitious ideas,” Stavis said. “Unfortunately I didn’t have the expertise or the support that would have been necessary to make it happen this year.”

Cameron Espinoza, outgoing Director of Student Outreach, said, “Stavis asked for three weeks extra time to plan the student campaigns, and in that time he produced nothing.”

Outgoing AS President Harrison Wills also weighed in on the controversy. “David Stavis had lofty goals and wasn’t able to implement them,” he said. “He dropped the ball.”

However, Wills says he still supports publicly funded campaigns and hopes SMC will attempt it again, albeit with more planning.

But not all members feel the same way. “The system we created is problematic, and I hope they change our infrastructure,” said Espinoza.