Minority Slate Poised to Represent CSUN Students
An all-minority slate of candidates was put on track Tuesday to take over Cal State Northridge’s student government when the Student Senate abandoned a move to overturn the election for campaign irregularities after school attorneys warned that could cause legal problems.
After nearly five hours of heated debate peppered with hooting and name-calling, Associated Students President Brad Marsh withdrew his motion to hold a new election.
Later asked why, he replied, “I just changed my mind.”
“I thought about it, I heard all the students talk, I listened to everyone. What it came down to was that [having a special election] might be the right thing to do since there was fraud, but since we couldn’t prove it then it was the wrong thing to do.”
That paved the way for President-elect Joaquin Macias and Vice President-elect Oscar Garay, who won the March 18 election, to take office June 1.
“I think it’s the responsible thing to do,” Macias said after the Student Senate meeting was over. “All of the allegations had no merit. It’s almost a witch hunt.”
Marsh said he was unswayed by two letters from attorneys warning that ordering a new election could pose legal problems.
Richard Goldstein, general counsel for the Associated Students, warned that ordering a new election “could easily lead to a precedent where any outgoing senate could maintain its power by simply invalidating the election, without a basis, if the persons elected were not to the liking of the existing senate.
“This would clearly be an undesired precedent.”
John Francis, attorney for campus organizations, warned because a student committee investigating the irregularities made no recommendation to void the election, the Student Senate lacked the authority to order a new one.
CSUN President Blenda Wilson also wrote the Student Senate, opposing a new election, and urging the senate to “work to ensure a smooth transition to a new student leadership and a restoration of an atmosphere of tolerance, respect and civility within student government.”
The Student Senate agreed last week to take up the issue of a special election after a student presented statistics he said demonstrated voter fraud that benefited We the People, the slate of black, Latino and Asian American candidates.
At issue was the validity of the university’s Touch Tone Election system, which allows students to cast ballots via telephone by keying in a series of 17 numbers, including a confidential identification number and their birth dates.
Twelve students complained that when they tried to vote, using the telephone voting method, they were informed by the computer that they had already cast their ballots, spreading a fear that perhaps other students had gotten hold of their identification numbers and had cast votes for them.
Supporters of the losing slate, “Students First,” argued if 12 people didn’t get a chance to vote, other students also may have been prevented from casting their ballots.
Other students contended there could have been a simple glitch in the system and that We the People’s 200-vote victory was deserved.
“We the students have made our decision already,” Jessica Macias told the Student Senate. “Why should you change it?”
Although the motion to hold a new election was not--after hours of debate--even voted upon, a university administrator denied the meeting was a waste of time.
“This was a wonderful exercise for students to go through,” said Ron Kopita, vice president for student affairs. “Every student had the opportunity to speak their opinion, there was a lot of discussion and in the final analysis, the democratic process won.”
The democratic process was a long and bumpy road for Macias’ slate, We the People.
Over several weeks, a student-run election committee investigated two dozen complaints against the slate. In the end, three violations, ranging from campaign overspending to wrongly stated endorsements, were upheld, which would have been enough to disqualify the slate under the school’s “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” campaign regulation policy.
But the committee found it could not strip the slate of its victory because the violations were recorded against the whole slate. The regulations provide only for disqualification of individual candidates, not entire slates.
Macias said he has appealed the campaign violations to the university’s Constitutional Affairs Board in hopes they will be struck down and clear We the People’s tarnished reputation. When he takes office, he said, he intends to start looking into the school’s election process to determine what can be done to minimize voting problems.
Kopita said it is up to Associated Students to decide whether it wants to abolish the touch tone phone elections, technology the students pushed for as a way to boost paltry voter numbers several years ago.
Marsh said he will try to use his last five weeks in office to push for a return to paper ballots.