The Daily Californian Online

Elections committee pushes back vote counting until July meeting

By Aaida Samad
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Monday, May 2, 2011
Category: News > University > Higher Education

The most contested leadership election in a union representing UC academic student employees has been shrouded in another layer of controversy after two days of vote counting plagued by repeated breakdowns, partisanship and allegations of election fraud resulted in an estimated 1,500 votes not being counted.

Vote counting for the statewide tri-annual leadership elections for the United Auto Workers Local 2865 - which represents nearly 12,000 graduate student instructors, readers and tutors - began Friday but was pushed into a second day after ballots from multiple campuses were challenged by members from both United for Social and Economic Justice and Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, two competing slates in the election.

Counting resumed Saturday but ended with a vote by the union elections committee to certify only a portion of the ballots and adjourn the vote counting, pushing back consideration of votes from three campuses - UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Merced - until the union's next Joint Council meeting in July.

According to a statement released by AWDU, there were around 3,200 votes cast in the election, with the largest turnouts at two of the uncounted campuses - UC Berkeley and UCLA. With UC Berkeley's voter turnout estimated to be around 819 people, around 1,500 votes - a little short of half the votes cast - remain uncounted.

The vote count comes after three days of union voting across nine UC campuses that began April 26. The election is the most contentious in the union's history, with all executive board and most campus positions contested.

A letter sent Saturday night to the union membership from the chair of the Elections Committee, Travis Knowles, said that after 48 hours "of intense heated work and deliberation with serious objections filed from both sides," the committee voted to certify the election results that had been counted, referring the challenged ballots to the Joint Council - the governing body of the union comprised of head stewards, recording secretaries and unit chairs from each campus as well as the union's 10-member executive board.

"Given the serious nature of some of these charges and the heated and turbulent atmosphere of the counting room, the elections committee referred the matter to the Joint Council," the letter reads.

However, the decision to end the counting before votes from all campuses could be tallied has been met with serious controversy, with many asserting that vote counting was ended unilaterally and improperly, risking disenfranchisement of voters at three of the nine UC campuses that voted.

According to Adam Hefty, the Elections Committee member from UC Santa Cruz, there are numerous issues with the way the vote counting was ended, specifically the vote by the elections committee, which he deemed "illegitimate" because he asserted the votes were taken so quickly that some committee members present did not understand what was going on and were unable to vote.

There has also been debate regarding the legitimacy of referring the challenged votes to the Joint Council.

"The Joint Council is able to make a determination of what do with the challenges and whether to certify the whole election, count existing ballots, exclude some ballots or even re-run or partially re-run elections," said Daraka Larimore-Hall, the incumbent union president who is running for reelection. "I have no position on what is the best at this point, but I know this needs to be addressed carefully to make sure to maintain the integrity of this election."

However, Philippe Marchand, the Elections Committee member from UC Berkeley said that referring the votes to the Joint Council presents a "problematic" conflict of interest because it means many members of the Joint Council will have to rule on ballots that will potentially determine their future elected positions in the union.

"In all my experience, I don't think I've ever seen elections procedures that were more dubious than the elections we've witnessed over the last few days," Marchand said. "I'm still shocked."

Charlie Eaton, a union trustee and UC Berkeley graduate student, said that the Joint Council will be unable to make any decision on the ballots because of that specific conflict of interest, adding that provisions in the union's bylaws that state that "upon the close of the polls ... the election committee shall count the ballots" bar the Joint Council from being able to make the decision, instead placing power with the elections committee.

However, Larimore-Hall asserted that under the bylaws, the Joint Council represents one of the highest authorities in the union - equal to the union membership - and is enabled to overturn any decision by the elections committee.

According to Eaton, AWDU has obtained legal counsel and is writing a letter to the UAW International to inform them that "they need to make sure the current union officials carry out their responsibilities to count all the ballots."

A rally at Sather Gate, followed by a march from campus to the union office in the Downtown is planned for 11:30 a.m. Monday to demand that the campus's 819 votes be counted.

Article Link: