Keeping campaigns honest

Photo: Elections Council Chair Shivom Sinha is encouraging voters, like those at this polling location outside of Dwinelle, to report any possible bylaws violations.
Shirin Ghaffary/Staff
Elections Council Chair Shivom Sinha is encouraging voters, like those at this polling location outside of Dwinelle, to report any possible bylaws violations.

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Keeping Campaigns Honest

J.D. Morris talks about bylaw violations in this year's ASUC elections.

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At around 9:45 p.m. on Monday, UC Berkeley sophomore Mia Lincoln was interrupted during a meeting by a phone call.

The caller was a woman with the campaign for Joey Freeman, external affairs vice president candidate and current Student Action senator. Lincoln said she had no idea how her personal cell phone number was obtained.

"She was encouraging me to vote for Joey and for the Student Action slate," Lincoln said. "To my knowledge, I don't know anybody that is working on his campaign."

Freeman did not respond to requests for comment.

Though Lincoln said it was disruptive, the call - and other similar emails, Facebook messages and phone calls received by students from ASUC candidates that they did not know - does not constitute a bylaws violation.

According to the ASUC Constitution and Bylaws, a candidate can be punished for "using e-mail lists or posting boards to campaign, with spam," which the bylaws define as mail that is sent without any pre-existing relationship with the recipient, permission from the organizational leadership or membership in the respective organization in charge of the list.

Attorney General Nathan Rahmanou said he cannot censure candidates for sending individual messages because the candidates do not appear to have sent them using email lists.

"If I don't have a specific bylaw saying very clearly that someone's breaking a rule, even if I feel like it's unfair, there's no way I can give someone a censure," Rahmanou said, adding that "common sense would be that unless you know someone, you can't email them."

Last fall as president-elect, President Noah Stern was given three censures for violating the bylaws by sending out spam emails using email lists he obtained from a former Berkeley City Council candidate.

But because emails and phone calls this year are being sent individually, Rahmanou said there is nothing he can do. The bylaws do not place any restrictions on phone calls.

Though he cannot take any action on the personal messaging complaints, Rahmanou is proceeding with several campaign violations.

He said there are five charges he is currently investigating for senate candidates: one ongoing charge against a candidate caught campaigning in the dorms, three candidates who did not attend the mandatory candidates meeting or any of the subsequent makeups and one candidate who discussed her platform at a Residence Hall Assembly meeting - which is not allowed.

Rahmanou, however, will only completely pursue charges against candidates who are elected.

"If I file against people now, I have to file against everyone," Rahmanou said. "Also, part of the reason is that we want to hold people in office accountable."

Furthermore, Elections Council Chair Shivom Sinha said he has made it a priority to ensure that any bylaws violations are reported to him directly. Since launching a marketing campaign for the elections this week - complete with custom fliers and T-shirts - Sinha said he has received many reports and questions about potential violations.

By attempting to get as many violations reported to him as possible, Sinha said he is hoping to circumvent the traditional meeting between Student Action and CalSERVE parties where bylaws violations accumulated over the campaigning season are discussed and decisions are made about which to proceed with.

"The elections this year have been pretty clean so far," Sinha said. "The whole 'prevention is better than cure' thing has been something Nathan and I have tried to uphold."


J.D. Morris is the lead student government reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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