On Wednesday, Dec. 6, ASUCR hosted their last meeting of fall quarter, beginning promptly at 6:30 p.m.
ASUCR President Aram Ayra introduced his new Commission on Fair Housing and Neighborhood Relations during ex-officio reports. The commission is aimed to help students solve issues concerning absentee landlords, inform students of tenant rights and improve relationships between students and their neighbors. “I don’t know if you have been to the university neighborhood meeting, but we’re generally not liked by the neighbors,” said Ayra. The commission will provide new student residents with a packet containing information on their neighbors, street sweeping and garbage pick-up.
The meeting was mostly dominated, however, by debate around the allowance of political parties in the upcoming ASUCR elections. Students packed into the senate chambers to voice their opposition for political parties, with one student, Justin Domicello, a third-year English major, openly venting his frustration with ASUCR.
“Fraternities and sororities have an economically advantageous and propaganda and voting and for soliciting votes that are misinformed,” said Domicello. “ASUCR doesn’t get a lot accomplished because the people elected have title seats in which they take stipends but don’t actually work for students.” Domicello blamed ASUCR’s perceived ineffectiveness on fraternities and sororities, particularly Kappa Sigma in 2016-17, dominating the senate.
CHASS Senator Mariam Alkhalili, one of the most vocal opponents to political parties, favors a system where every candidate is an independent with political parties banned. “I believe that political parties discourage students from running for office,” Alkhalili said, adding that they “foster corruption which tarnishes the reputation of ASUCR and hinders its efficiency.” Alkhalili urged Elections Director Taylor Brown and the elections committee to “give the independent candidacy system a chance for a few years” and make it permanent in the election bylaws.
Brown stated in an email to the Highlander that she believes “political parties are particularly useful in getting voters come (sic) out to the polls … Parties are known to bring a certain energy to campus during elections.” Brown acknowledged that after the display by students at the senate meeting, she had to “do the right thing for the sake of democracy on this campus. The right thing to do is also something we haven’t done in the past for a long time: administer a completely clean election. No parties. No lap-topping.”
Brown did state that since parties and laptopping — the act of coercing a student to vote for a student on an unofficial laptop — will not be allowed, the elections committee must be “creative” with attracting students to vote. “This will include a lot of social media outreach, decorations, promotional giveaways, food incentives, and partnering with various organizations on campus to help us promote Elections,” stated Brown, including allowing organizations and athletic teams to endorse candidates and donate a limited amount of money to their campaigns if they choose.
President Ayra expressed his opposition to political parties in an email interview with the Highlander. Believing that political parties in national politics are a “necessary evil,” Ayra finds that political parties in student body elections do more harm than good. “On a university campus … parties have no purpose and are more a hindrance to good, student representation,” Ayra stated, “The history of political parties at UCR is mired in corruption, unethical leadership, and misrepresentation of the most critical parts of our campus.”
Stating that political parties have become one of the most “gritty” and “dishonest” aspects of running for elected student office, Ayra said that ASUCR is presented with a unique opportunity to uphold independent candidacy and open up student leadership to anyone who wants to “serve their fellow students, and dedicate themself (sic) to a conscious & cooperative relationship with their constituents.”
Though initially favoring political parties under strict regulation, CHASS Senator Marco Ornelas is now opposed to political parties. Ornelas described that although his position on political parties had not changed much, he grew concerned about parties’ implications after hearing from students during the Dec. 6 meeting. “I began to worry that any regulations set on parties would be undermined by the group of students who are working behind closed doors to reinstate a party system,” he shared.
Some senators, such as BCOE Senator Patrick Le, are neutral on the topic. Le strongly disagreed with a portion of the bill that prohibited political parties for five years. “Each new cohort of ASUCR should have the choice of allowing / banning political parties,” Le wrote in an email to the Highlander. Le added that he supported an alternative bill that “will limit voting to only the designated locations” which “will solve the whole issue and protect our students from fraudulent activities.”
The first ASUCR meeting of winter quarter will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 10 inside the senate chambers (HUB 222) beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Correction (1/8/18 – 4:50 p.m.): This article’s former title, “ASUCR bans political parties and laptopping in 2018 elections,” was incorrect and misleading as ASUCR has not passed any formal law regarding political parties or laptopping. This was an error on our part and The Highlander regrets the mistake.