The All-Campus Elections Commission (ACEC) is under fire for multiple alleged violations during the recent campus elections, including removing a Minnesota Student Association presidential candidate from the ballot and excluding many candidates from its voters' guide.
The Osirus Washington/Janet Nguyen president and vice president ticket was removed from the ballot less than a day before voting began. That was against the ACEC bylaws and was done with no knowledge or input from any leaders in MSA, several sources told the Minnesota Daily.
This year, a voters' guide was included on the ACEC website that featured candidate statements and information about each platform.
However, many candidates were not included in the guide, including half of those running for an At-Large Representative seat and one of the MSA presidential candidates. This led to an investigation from Student Unions and Activities, which oversees the ACEC.
The ACEC, a student group that facilitates the annual all-campus elections, received multiple complaints about this year’s election, according to minutes from a March 13 ACEC meeting.
According to an email sent to MSA leadership that was shared with the Daily, the ACEC “practices discretion within all of [their] decisions.” The group declined multiple requests for comment and forwarded the Daily to SUA, who said they are reviewing the matter.
Candidates removed with little communication
Multiple MSA leaders, including President Simran Mishra and Chief of Staff James Farnsworth, said ACEC had not contacted them about changing the ballot and were unaware a ticket was removed until voting opened.
After controversy arose around Washington’s social media posts, Nguyen dropped out as Washington’s running mate the day before voting opened. The ACEC bylaws state resigning is not allowed within one week of the first voting day and should not affect the ballot.
The group chose to remove Nguyen because voting had not yet begun and “it was a relatively easy change,” according to an email from the ACEC to an MSA leader that was shared with the Daily. Because ACEC removed Nguyen, Washington became ineligible to run.
Washington published several posts on Facebook in December 2018 and January 2019 that attracted attention from other student government members one day before voting began.
The posts, which have since been deleted, read, “Is it bad karma to get an abortion?" and that it should be illegal to have more children if a parent is on government assistance. Washington continued to defend his positions and wrote on Facebook that those commenting were attempting to “shun [his] voice.”
As a result of the posts, which Nguyen said she had no knowledge of until they resurfaced, she dropped out of the race with the permission of the ACEC.
“I did what I knew was right in my heart as his statements do not reflect my values and beliefs as a person,” Nguyen wrote in an email to the Daily. "Once I explained to them why ... I could no longer partake in the race [and] my own well-being, they allowed me to withdraw."
Washington, who has since resigned his current position as an at-large representative and disassociated himself from MSA, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
While the presidential election received the most attention, several candidates in other races have questioned the fairness of the ACEC after they were not included in the group’s informational voting guide.
Other candidates said they didn't receive emails about being in the guide before it was published, according to Caroline Pavlecic, a re-elected at-large representative who was not included in the guide. When asked by At-Large Representative Apostolos Kotsolis via email, the ACEC said they notified candidates of the error March 11, after voting was already open.
Pavlecic filed a complaint with SUA, and the guide was removed later that day.
“ACEC was not neutral,” Pavlecic said. “Since no one had ever contacted me, it wasn’t fair that other people were getting more promotion.”
Addressing the complaints
Conducting elections internally instead of using an outside party can raise questions of integrity, said MSA President Simran Mishra. However, the ACEC is currently the only viable option for groups on campus who want to hold an election.
The ACEC received a resolution from all voting members of MSA regarding previous issues with the group and suggested changes last year. While some were adopted, Mishra said there is room for improvement in the ACEC, especially regarding voter turnout.
The ACEC is responsible for promoting MSA elections, but the 2018 all-campus turnout for the election was only 12 percent of the student population, Mishra said.
“In comparison with other Big Ten schools, that is quite low. I think there's a lot more potential to have a better voter turnout, even in our student elections,” Mishra said.
Even if no complaints are filed, Farnsworth, who also acts as the MSA liaison to the ACEC, said there still needs to be a conversation about the ACEC’s actions.
“[We need to] continue to communicate with folks across the campus community about what improvements they’d like to see in the process. I think that’s definitely something people are committed to,” he said.