Nearly three weeks after the Associated Students election ended, one party is still answering to allegations of unfair campaign practices.
The Open People’s Party, which secured 23 of the 29 positions up for grabs, was brought before the A.S. Judicial Council yesterday on charges that it may have colluded with two of its disqualified candidates to violate election code. The case, A.S. Elections Committee v. OPP, accuses the party of being complicit with two Rec Sports News editors who were found guilty of illegally using their own publication to endorse themselves and their slate.
OPP candidates Matt Berson and Joel Katz, both of whom were running for off-campus representative, are the executive editor and executive managing editor of Rec Sports News, respectively. The newsletter, which appeared as a pullout advertisement in the Daily Nexus on April 23, endorsed the two candidates and OPP. Following the newsletter’s appearance, the A.S. Elections Committee unanimously voted to disqualify Berson and Katz after it ruled that the two candidates violated the A.S. Election Code.
A.S. Elections Committee Chair Toby Bautista said if OPP is found guilty, her committee recommends that Judicial Council fine each party member at most $50.
“We feel the disqualification of two OPP members has greatly affected the party as a whole,” Bautista said. “This remedy is within reasonable means for a college student to pay.”
However, Michael Lambright, an OPP member who represented the party in the case, said the basis of the hearing was unfounded. He said no proof exists linking OPP to the newsletter’s actions.
“It’s an accusation of a violation by association,” Lambright said.
In an e-mail to Judicial Council, Berson wrote that OPP was in no way involved with the publication.
“I want to make it perfectly clear,” Berson wrote. “The leadership and members of the Open People’s Party had no influence or prior knowledge of Rec Sports News’ endorsement of the party … Katz and I were neither asked to put the endorsement in RSN by OPP leaders, nor did we ever communicate to OPP that we were going to include the endorsement prior to the April 23 release date.”
One piece of evidence – an e-mail and attached Microsoft Word document that allegedly linked OPP to the newsletter’s endorsements – was removed from the case.
OPP’s rival party, Student Voice, claimed it obtained the e-mail and attached document, entitled “OPP Committees Plan,” off a computer in the A.S. Main Office following the A.S. Election. In the document, it is stated that during the campaign the party would “work with the Rec Sports Newsletter to Promote OPP.”
However, since the petitioner could not directly link this sentence to direct action, nor prove the authenticity of the document, the council barred the piece’s admission as evidence.
In a statement provided to the Nexus following the hearing, Hassan Naveed – the SV presidential candidate – and Megan Klein – the SV internal vice presidential candidate – stated they believed Judicial Council should have included the documents.
“Not utilizing all evidence in the case really hinders a remedy to an unfair election,” Naveed and Klein said. “We need fair due process to find a solution to this mass election code violation as well as voter fraud.”
During the closing arguments, Bautista said the council’s decision would provide closure for those involved in the contentious election.
“The entire election has internally fractured Associated Students between its members, administration and the relationship with our constituents,” Bautista said. “The rippling impact that this election has had on this campus will not be entirely solved by the decision made by Judicial Council, but it should… start a process towards a resolution for all the issues this election has brought to our attention.”
Following Bautista’s remarks, Narain Kumar, an OPP member who also represented the party, maintained his party’s innocence.
“This council punishes for elections violations,” Kumar said. “It doesn’t punish for violations of journalistic standards. … The burden of proof has not been met.”