On Wednesday, Jan. 24, ASUCR senators voted to officially ban laptopping from the 2018 elections with a vote of 9-1-0. This decision comes after senators banned political parties Wednesday, Jan. 17 after a contentious debate that resulted in a vote of 4-3-9.
The bill on laptopping was scheduled to be discussed during the Jan. 17 meeting, but tabled after senators agreed there should be more time to deliberate on the topic. Around 7:15 p.m. this past Wednesday, CHASS Senator Carolyn Chang motioned to take the bill, titled SB-W18-016 or Senate Bill on Laptopping, off of the table, which was seconded by CHASS Senator Marco Ornelas.
Executive Vice President Carisha Moore opened the speaker’s list from the galley allowing 10 minutes for those who wanted to speak for or against the bill.
The first group to speak was those for the ban on laptopping, beginning with Bradley Evans, an electrical engineering and computer science student who previously served in the US Marine Corps with the rank of sergeant, working as a cryptographic materials custodian and communications specialist. Evans also taught communications security at the Joint Expeditionary Warfare Laboratory in the Coronado naval base near San Diego.
Regarding laptopping, Evans described an experience he had during the 2015 elections, where former CHASS Senator Jonathan Javier approached Evans and asked him to vote on Javier’s computer. “I was really baffled by the interaction because here, a stranger was asking me to provide my personal login credentials onto a machine that was clearly a privately owned computer,” said Evans to the senate. Evans said that he was convinced someone was trying to scam him. He then explained that when he tried to warn others away and questioned Javier’s ethics, he was told by Javier that he was “‘just one opinion. You don’t matter.’”
Evans requested an apology for the treatment he received by Javier following his win, only to be told by then-ASUCR President Ashley Harano “that the President of ASUCR has nothing to do with elections, and that it is not her concern,” stated Evans. “This was my first impression of this body (ASUCR), and it has been a lasting one,” he said. He later criticized ASUCR, suggesting that the reason they want to keep laptopping around is because “this body has failed its students. It has failed to do any meaningful outreach more effective than laptopping.”
With numerous white papers written to the chancellor, four past ASUCR presidents, and an op-ed in the Highlander, Evans called laptopping “textbook phishing.” He explained that the security costs of laptopping are tremendous and that a “talented collection of political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, scientists and engineers, and many others such as what is here could come up with a better, more ethical — and, most critically, a safer and more secure — way of reaching out to students and encouraging their participation.”
ASUCR President Aram Ayra shared Evans’ concerns in his speech to the senate. “We are putting students at an unnecessary risk during elections,” stated Ayra, continuing, “we (used) to have paper ballots, we (used) to have just polling sites and it worked just fine.” Ayra advocated outreach to bring voters to the polls, instead of relying on tools like laptopping.
Ayra cited a conversation he had with LGBT Resource Center Director Nancy Tubbs in which she expressed her concern with Costo Hall being used in the conversation of laptopping as, in Ayra’s words, a “political throw-around.” Ayra added that “they (Costo Hall) don’t exist for that reason, they do a lot of amazing, tangible work on campus and they shouldn’t be used as a shield to hide behind every time you (the senate) don’t want to make a decision on a stance.”
Ayra closed with the point that ASUCR’s decision to ban laptopping would “really (add to) the change that this student government so desperately needs.”
The practicality of enforcing a ban on laptopping was a key point of ASUCR Judicial Council Chief Justice Casey Thielhart. He explained that, when running as a CHASS senator in 2015, laptopping was problematic despite an official ban on the practice. “What ended up happening, even though laptopping was banned, the ASUCR Judicial Council that year basically threw their hands up and said ‘this is not something we can properly adjudicate’ because most cases that were submitted about laptopping were submitted third-party because most students aren’t aware of the elections code.”
Thielhart said that, in his personal interpretation of the elections bylaws, “what you guys are trying to accomplish is banning laptopping in a way that voting is only done offline or at approved polling stations and from my interpretation … in reading these bylaws, this really does not accomplish that at all.” He highlighted the fact that the bylaws do not state voting cannot be done from a personal computer, stating that using a public computer, in a library for example, is not a personal device and would not qualify. “These are really not ironclad bylaws for banning laptopping and making sure voting is only done at approved stations,” said Thielhart.
After Thielhart, Vice President of Internal Affairs Semi Cole spoke about his concerns on student participation would be affected by the ban. “Students are not going to take the time to wait in a line … a lot of students have places to be, a lot of students already don’t care about ASUCR, a lot of students don’t have the time to care about ASUCR so assuming that they’re going to take … the time to research who they’re going to vote for is quite idealistic.”
Cole advocated for electronic voting on the premise that students are busy and do not have the time to go to a concrete polling location. He also spoke on the importance of regulation and making sure candidates are following the rules.
BCOE Senator Patrick Le moved to approve the bill to ban laptopping while CHASS Senator Marco Ornelas seconded. The senate’s vote on the bill carried out as follows:
- CHASS Senator Alkhalili: Yes
- CHASS Senator Chang: No
- CHASS Senator Demeku: Yes
- BCOE Senator Le: Yes
- CHASS Senator Mengistu: Yes
- CHASS Senator Nakaoka: Yes
- CNAS Senator Ng: Yes
- CHASS Senator Ornelas: Yes
- CHASS Senator Wong: Yes
- BCOE Senator Xaypraseuth: Yes
In an interview later in the week, Le explained that his view on laptopping is “straightforward … I do not want laptopping whatsoever … This opinion is based on my own beliefs and the wishes of my fellow engineers.” Le reassured that the elections committee will “ensure a remarkable turnout” and that this ban will make elections more fair and secure allowing students to become a more educated voter.
Cole expressed in an interview with the Highlander that he respects the senate’s decision but says his concern primarily centers on student accessibility, and his belief that online voting is a prime medium for students to access the polls on their own time. “I’m all for supporting creating a pathway for students to vote on campus … once we cut the way students can vote on campus, we’re cutting out student voices, we’re cutting out democracy,” stated Cole.
Without electronic voting, Cole believes voter turnout will be lowered. The 2017 race, which ran only independent candidates and no political parties, netted only 21 percent of the vote, just one percent above the minimum required for referenda to pass. He cited his conversations with various political science professors on campus explaining that their expertise on elections and voter behavior in the United States provided clarification on the impact of an election without parties and laptopping.
Cole proposed several solutions for solving a possible decrease in turnout. “The elections director could, for the candidacy workshops, do each of them in a different location on campus, like Costo Hall,” Cole said, referring to the workshops held prior to elections to educate candidates on ethical campaign practices and laws. Cole explained that this would be a way to reach out to communities in Costo Hall that may be unsure about elections. He also suggested that candidates could do more outreach with social media, campaigning throughout campus and genuinely interact with students.
In an email from CHASS Senator Mariam Alkhalili, she lauded the ban on laptopping as a way to “deter the formation of underground political parties,” and that this will be a “100% push toward a cleaner elections (sic).” Alkhalili acknowledged that it will be harder to obtain votes but that this will place more responsibility on the candidates to reach out to students and convince them to vote.
Alkhalili also outlined a collaboration between herself, Elections Director Taylor Brown, Le and CHASS Senator Grant Nakaoka aimed to discuss ways to increase turnout. “We will also be working together to come up with strategies to increase voter turnout, such as creating a website for students to view the candidates and distributing voter guides, and etc.,” wrote Alkhalili in an email. She clarified that, although these actions are not concrete, they are working on finding the best methods to educate students and engage them in the elections process.
- The Highlander News referendum was approved unanimously, 10-0-0, meaning it will appear on the 2018 ballot. The referendum seeks a $2 increase to the student fee provided to the Highlander Newspaper which will go toward operating costs, make up for declining ad revenue and “help preserve UCR’s only independent news source.”
- Ayra’s Fair Housing and Neighborhood Relations Committee has around 50 houses signed on. The committee is aimed to help students solve issues concerning absentee landlords, inform students of tenant rights and improve relationships between students and their neighbors. They will host a Fair Housing Council workshop on March 6 to focus on renter issues.
The meeting adjourned at 9:05 p.m. The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 31, beginning at 6:30 p.m. inside HUB 221.