Elections Director Alexandra Arias announcing at the encampment that elections are canceled until administration meets demands set by the protestors.
PC: Brenda Jovel / The Highlander

A sudden announcement by the Associated Students of University of California, Riverside (ASUCR) Elections Director, Alexandra Arias, during one of many protests held by pro-Palestine protestors at the encampment on UCR campus upended student government elections last week. It was revealed that members of the Elections Committee voted to shut down polling sites and stand in solidarity with the encampment. An announcement made on the ASUCR Elections Instagram stated that the committee is aware how this disrupt the flow of voting week and the elections overall, but “to continue the promotion of elections when there is a urgent call to end our university’s complicity in Palestinian genocide would be disgraceful.” So, the committee declared that they would “stand with unwavering support for Palestine,” until demands would be met by administrations. 

While the week ended with an agreement to end the encampment and the elections returned to normal operations, Arias’ early decision resulted in a significant impact on the campus community and the course of elections for the 2024-2025 school year.

In an interview with The Highlander, Elections Director Arias shed light on the events which lead up to the Elections Committee making their decision.

Beginning the morning of Monday, April 29, 2024, Arias and her committee arrived early to set up the polling sites, but were informed by a pro staff member that an encampment was erected on UCR campus. They were informed that if they did not feel “safe or comfortable” at the Bell Tower polling location,  they could always move, but after setting up, they felt fine as the encampment was  “something peaceful.”

In a post polling meeting, Arias and her committee came to the conclusion that due to a lack of volunteers at hand, they would have to close two of the six polling sites. The committee continued to face manpower struggles on Tuesday, with the Assistant Elections Director being absent to provide support at the encampment. 

As the committee faced these and various other logistical issues, moral questions were also weighed heavily. A message was sent out to the Elections Committee by the Assistant Elections Director that “they were torn,” because they wanted to support the encampment, but they also wanted to follow through with the work of the elections committee. Arias shared that many other committee members also felt the same, and so a conversation began as to whether they should close the Bell Tower polling site. This posed an issue, as it put the Elections Committee under the required minimum of four sites per their bylaws.

However, Arias pointed out that “by having a poll site at the [encampment], we felt that we were taking away from the encampment efforts [and] that the attention was being drawn away.” After further discussion alumni and former ASUCR Chief Justice Mohammed Almouazzen, who was assisting with the encampment, connected with organizers of the encampment and asked if closing down the polling sites would be beneficial to their cause; to which the response was yes. 

Arias claimed that the organizers also said that what would help the most would be disruption, “They didn’t tell me to shut down elections … They just said that their goal with the campaign was that they need to disrupt business as usual. They needed to make sure that people’s lives were being affected. That it was making it harder for administration to go about their day to day.”

While considering the Elections Committee role, Arias understood that “the one thing that [the Elections Committee has power over is elections. We knew that we weren’t going to stop a whole war by doing this. We knew that we weren’t going to solve everything single handedly. But we knew that this would spark outrage. We knew this would make headlines. We knew that this was going to be a conversation and a topic that people were going to start talking about because the only time that ASUCR is really relevant throughout the year, other than a few wins here and there, a couple of statements, is election season.”

Arias put the decision down to a vote of the Elections Committee. The result was an 8-0-1 decision to shut down the elections. Arias did not allow her committee members to abstain, believing “you cannot abstain from genocide. You cannot abstain from war. You cannot simply abstain from something that has killed millions of people.” What this meant for the elections committee, according to Arias, is that they would close polling sites, would not process violations and stop communicating with candidates; however, people still had the opportunity to vote through their ballots.

In a speech on Wednesday at the encampments, Arias declared that as Elections Director, she “would not certify the results” for elections until administration met the demands set by protestors.

Later that day during the 21st ASUCR Senate Meeting of the quarter, Transfer Student Director Mahnoor Javed, Executive President Ahluwalia and Vice President of External Affairs Ángel Rentería stood in solidarity with Elections Director Arias’ decision to suspend elections. 

Transfer Student Director Javed delivered a statement to the Senate declaring that “as student leaders we believe it is essential to uphold principles of safety, inclusivity and respect for all individuals on our campuses. The failure to adequately address and prevent such incidents [such as the violence at UCLA] undermines these principles and erodes trust in our university leadership.” Javed later urged UCR administration to “prioritize the safety and well-being of our students.”

Following that speech, members of the Executive Cabinet and the Senate walked out in support of the protest. By the end of the week, multiple cabinets from ASUCR had released their own statements including the Office of the President, Senate and GCAP.

To learn more  about the original demands and agreement made between administration and protesters check out “I believe that we will win’: the agreement that ended UCR’s encampment,” by Senna Omar; to learn more about the efforts leading up to the deal, check out “Seven months of advocacy,” by Mata Elangovan.