Runoff election to go on despite Apenyo and Sherman's disqualification

By Rachel Rippetoe | March 28, 2017 4:07pm
by Sam Keeler / The Beacon

The ASUP Elections Committee announced the disqualification of presidential and vice presidential candidates Tsikata Apenyo and Abby Sherman at the Senate meeting Monday at 4:30 p.m.

The runoff election scheduled to take place Tuesday and Wednesday will still go on, but candidates Brandon Rivera and John Akers will be the only ones on the ballot. It opens at 8 a.m. Tuesday

A 20-page report from the elections committee said Apenyo and Sherman were disqualified for campaigning at an ASUP event and slander by supporters of the Apenyo/Sherman campaign.

“We decided we had to take a stand at this election and let the student body know that this is not acceptable,” said Anthony Ng, a senior member of the elections committee. “The report and the time we spent on it just shows how confident we are in this decision.”

The elections committee stated in the report, "On the afternoon of Friday, March 25th, one of the elections committee members witnessed VP Candidate Ms. Sherman campaigning at Fresh Check Day, an ASUP sponsored event, which is a direct violation of the campaigning guidelines."

Sherman said she felt blindsided by the charges. She says a friend came up to her before the Fresh Check Day event and asked a question about the election, which someone on the elections committee overheard.

“It felt a little... harsh,” Sherman said. “At that point it’s like, ‘What do you call campaigning? Whenever you hear the word vote?’”

However, Ng found the exchanges inappropriate. He said another elections committee member saw Sherman remind a senior that they were still able to vote in the upcoming election.

“I think introducing yourself and reminding a student that they can vote in the election is campaigning,” Ng said.

The committee also collected evidence that Apenyo was involved in last weekend's "Bad Samaritan Annual International House Crawl," which purported "official" support for Apenyo and Sherman.

According to the report, Apenyo was listed as a host for the event on Facebook and charged students for alcohol through Venmo. The transactions would be in violation of the student conduct code.

However, Apenyo denies any real affiliation with the event.

“Gerry Gregg and I had a conversation and we both came to the understanding that I really did not have anything to do with it whatsoever,” Apenyo said. “It was just bad timing, the event coinciding with the election. I didn’t want anything to really do with it.”

The election committee’s report features an appendix that details — in Venmo screenshots — the money that Apenyo received and reimbursed for the house crawl. However, the violation that resulted in Apenyo’s disqualification was slander.

The report reads, "As stated in our run off elections guidelines, the candidates are responsible for their supporters actions. When House Crawl was canceled, members of this event wrote ‘You can thank the opposition,’ implicitly blaming Rivera and Akers for the cancellation of this House Crawl. Roughly 700 people were invited to this event, meaning that a significant portion of the school could have been affected by unfair and unethical campaigning."

“I was completely unaware of things that were said by our supporters or potential voters,” Sherman said. “When we got those receipts, I was completely in shock.”

Rivera and Akers, who are both current members of Executive Board — Rivera is current ASUP President and Akers is Speaker of the Senate — have to get 10 percent of the student body's vote on Tuesday to legitimize their presidency and vice presidency for the coming year. There will be no write-in ballot because the election is a runoff.

The two juniors learned of their opponents’ disqualification along with the rest of campus. Akers said he found out five minutes before the Senate meeting when everyone had Apenyo and Sherman’s Facebook posts about the disqualification pulled up on their laptops.

Rivera, who ran with Apenyo last year and still shares a bedroom with him in their Haggerty apartment, said the Senate meeting was tough.

“He was like my best friend, my brother, my roommate since freshman year,” Rivera said. “He was my number one guy. Sitting in that meeting today, I can tell you right now, I was very uncomfortable. This wasn’t a happy time like, ‘Oh my God, we won!’ No we’re not feeling that at all. This sucks. We never wanted this.”

The announcement was uncomfortable for both sets of candidates. Apenyo said what frustrated him most about the disqualification was that he and Sherman were not clued in on the happenings of the investigation.

Apenyo said he wasn’t asked any questions or consulted over the weekend when the elections committee was looking into the violations. He said he also takes issue with the fact that there is no appeals process for the decision.

“So what are we going to tell the 600 something people who voted for us?” Apenyo said. “We should be able to defend ourselves in some way. I don’t know any court of law that doesn’t allow you to defend yourself when you are a part of an investigation that is sullying your name.”

Ng said that since the Elections Committee does not have a set of concrete bylaws, there’s no rule that they need to incorporate Apenyo and Sherman into their investigation. Senate Oversight Committee can judge whether the Elections Committee has authority to disqualify candidates, and the oversight committee decided Monday night that it was within the committee’s authority to disqualify Apenyo and Sherman.

“The elections committee gave them so many opportunities,” Rivera said. “It’s not just one thing. It’s a laundry list.”

Apenyo and Sherman did get a warning from the Elections Committee that further violations could be grounds for disqualification. Last Friday, the Elections Committee issued sanctions to Apenyo and Sherman for violating campaign guidelines.

Victoria Beccar Varela, freshman chair of the elections committee, said the violations were largely related to Apenyo and Sherman’s campaign fliers that were distributed along with Red Bull cans throughout classrooms in Franz Hall. The fliers and energy drinks were classified as “unsolicited materials” and as “campaigning to a captive audience”.

“You’re not allowed to put posters in (the classrooms of) Franz or in any other classroom because students don’t have a choice of whether to be there or not,” Beccar Varela said.

Other complaints to the committee were related to an email sent out by the Pre-Med Club. Apenyo is the Vice President of the club and the email encouraged its upwards of 200 members to vote for Apenyo and Sherman. It is not against campaign guidelines for a club to endorse candidates, however, guidelines state that candidates “may not campaign via email.”

Rivera and Akers did not receive any sanctions, but the third pair of candidates in the initial race, juniors Jimmy McLaughlin and Moises Lemus, did receive sanctions due to a perceived personal attack on another candidate.

In a Facebook group, McLaughlin wrote a post saying, “Or vote for me, I drank more beer just last night than Tsikata has in the last year.” McLaughlin and Lemus are being required by the Elections Committee to perform some kind of community service as a result of the sanctions.

“The community wins because at this point, I’m pretty sure we all have to serve at least some time,” McLaughlin said.

Sherman said she is hoping that the disqualification will not distract from her and Apenyo’s original campaign message.

“Change a campus, change a culture: It doesn’t have to be through ASUP. It can be through all of us,” Sherman said. “Regardless of our title next year, we’re going to be fighting for these issues. I don’t want to get caught up in the politics of it all because then we lose focus of why we did this in the first place.”

Despite the uncomfortable turn of events, Apenyo, Rivera and Akers still have to work together on executive board for the rest of the year.

The three will be riding up to Manzanita, Ore. together this weekend for an ASUP Executive Board retreat. Rivera said the two hour road trip might be a little awkward.

“It’ll be fine,” Akers said. “We’re just going to do our job and do our work like we normally do. Hopefully the worst of it all is behind us.”