I am filing a grievance against the USUSA Hearing Board

Letter to editor

The results of the USUSA elections were announced today, and most of the positions were filled. However, the winners of the race for Student Events VP and the Diversity and Clubs VP have yet to be revealed. The elections committee is holding off on announcing who will fill these positions because the Hearing Board is still evaluating grievances that were filed late last night and this morning.

During the USUSA elections process, the USUSA Hearing Board is tasked with moderating disputes between candidates running for office. These grievances are typically filed by a candidate to correct an injustice — perceived or legitimate — committed by their opponent. The hearing board is then responsible for evaluating the merits of the injustice, weighing the presented evidence, and assessing if the incident described in the grievance actually occurred and does in fact violate the election bylaws.

Unfortunately, the USUSA Hearing Board has utterly failed to fairly and justly arbitrate these disputes. This week, the Hearing Board routinely made decisions that ignored, if not entirely violated, the very bylaws it is tasked with enforcing. The primary failure of the Hearing Board arises from the fact that they did not consistently enforce the bylaws as they are written. Students should be outraged by the fact that the Hearing Board punished candidates for violating rules that do not exist.

The most notable example relates to the punishment that Michael Peters and Dallin Johnson received in their races for President and Executive VP, respectively. On Wednesday afternoon, a mass text was sent to more than 2000 people encouraging them to vote for Michael Peters and Dallin Johnson. Grievances were immediately filed, and hearing board meetings occurred shortly after. As punishment for the text, the Hearing Board decided that Michael and Dallin would both be prohibited from actively campaigning until 6:00 PM on Thursday — effectively denying them the ability to campaign on the final day of the election.

Here’s the thing: Michael and Dallin did not violate the election bylaws. Those who filed the grievance argued that Michael and Dallin violated bylaw VI, A, d, which states “The use of electronic mail to actively campaign and solicit votes is prohibited. Mass email is limited to communicating with Campaign Committee Members who have opted into receiving such communications.” This is the bylaw that the Hearing Board claimed was violated when they administered their punishment. The problem with this outcome should be obvious: the mass text that was sent was not an email. It was a text. If you handed an objective bystander a copy of the bylaws and asked: “Do these bylaws prohibit a candidate from sending a mass text?” The answer would unequivocally be no.

I acknowledge that this mass text message may have violated the “spirit” of the bylaws, but the hearing board should be arbitrating incidents based on the textual meaning of the bylaws, not their spirit. The bylaws have been meticulously crafted and refined over several years of elections and they have been constructed with precise language to specifically and explicitly prohibit certain actions and behaviors. So, it only makes sense that If the bylaws do not explicitly prohibit a thing, that thing should not be prohibited, and doers of that thing should not be punished.

Punishing candidates for engaging in behavior that is not prohibited by the bylaws, but that the Hearing Board arbitrarily decides is questionable, is patently unfair. How is a candidate supposed to differentiate between good campaign strategy and unfair campaign strategy? They should be able to make this determination by reviewing the bylaws. But unfortunately, the Hearing Board doesn’t care what the bylaws have to say. And if the Hearing Board doesn’t care whether or not something violates the bylaws, then why bother having bylaws at all? Should we just abandon them altogether since candidates are being punished at the whim of the Hearing Board anyway? The only discretion the Hearing Board should be granted is in regards to the exact nature of the punishment, and even that should rely on some predetermined matrix or set of standards rather some arbitrary restriction that “seems fair.”

The Michael Scott/Dallin Johnson incident is a prime example of the Hearing Board doing a poor job, but it isn’t the only example. In one of the senatorial races, a candidate was notified that a grievance had been filed against her because her opponent had apparently seen someone wearing her campaign button before elections week (which is a violation of the bylaws). At the Hearing Board meeting, the candidate who filed the grievance explicitly admitted that she had “no proof” the incident occurred — that is, she had no pictures, no names, and no witnesses of any kind. Despite this lack of proof — proof that the grieving party is explicitly required to provide per Bylaw VII, c, vi — the hearing board still punished the first candidate’s campaign.

Yes, you did read that correctly: the Hearing Board decided it was fair to punish one senatorial candidate’s campaign based solely on the unsubstantiated accusation of her opponent. To catch you up to speed: the Hearing Board is not only willing to punish candidates for incidents violating rules that don’t exist, it is willing to do so without any evidence that the incident occurred in the first place.

In another senatorial race, one of the candidates was temporarily prohibited from campaigning because his opponent filed a grievance against him. It wasn’t until four hours later, after his opponent rescinded the grievance because he realized that no rules were actually being broken, that he was able to resume campaigning. The first candidate was punished severely for four hours solely because his opponent — who never faced any consequences and was able to campaign continuously — misunderstood the rules. Though I don’t know the exact role the Hearing Board played in this incident, the outcome certainly was not fair.

The over-enforcement of nonexistent bylaws is problematic, but the non-enforcement of current bylaws is troubling as well. In one instance, a candidate filed a grievance against another for using 30 seconds of copyrighted music in her campaign video. The use of copyrighted material in a way that violates copyright law is explicitly prohibited by the bylaws. The Hearing Board, however, decided against punishing the candidate who used the copyrighted music. So the candidate who did not use copyrighted material — the candidate following the bylaws — was put at a disadvantage for following the rules. The candidate who did break the rules faced no punishment. The Hearing Board’s rationale was that they discussed the copyright claim with a USU lawyer, who did not believe it was a violation of copyright. If using 30 seconds of copyrighted music isn’t against the copyright rules, then what is? Why have that particular bylaw at all?

By no means am I a fan of the bylaws. I find them tedious, restrictive, and in many cases unnecessary. But, by failing to require evidence before distributing punishment, failing to robustly moderate time-sensitive disputes, failing to discourage frivolous grievances, and failing to strictly adhere to the language of the bylaws, the hearing board has risked fundamentally undermining the integrity of not just itself but the entire USUSA elections system. I am not arguing that the Hearing Board’s decisions had a material impact on the outcome of any of the electoral races — who’s to say. But I am arguing that the Hearing Board engaged in procedurally unsound and objectively unfair practices. The Hearing Board has failed us, and for that I’d like to file a grievance against them.
— Brayden S. O’Brien

There are 7 comments

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  1. Riley

    Their punishment should depend on how they got the phone numbers.

    I’d have a hard time believing that 2,000 people offered up their numbers to USUSA campaigners.

  2. Anonymous

    Would you like to look up actual laws with regards to opting in people for a service thats sells users information?? Michael and Dallin got a slap on the wrist.

  3. Anonymous

    And in the Elections By Laws in the second paragraph at the header it says “Candidates, campaign committees and supporters, proponents, and opponents of referenda must follow all university policies, and local, state, and federal law.” So if they break the law and they therefore break the by laws. Also all Hearing Board evidence and discussion is done behind closed doors so you have no idea what was actually brought to the table besides any gossip that you may have heard. You’re making unsubstantiated claims of unfairness when you don’t even know what actually happened within those meetings.

  4. Brayden

    @Anonymous: Communications law is complicated, contextual, and based on precedent and not just statute. If you think they broke federal law, report them to the FBI. I’m pretty confident they wouldn’t be convicted. I have a solid understanding of what went down in these hearing boards and if you think my piece is unsubstantiated gossip, then write a response. Hearing board messed up and I’m still thoroughly convinced of that.

  5. Kyle Stark

    I think it’s great how much people care about these high-school-esque elections. The candidates literally have devices at there tables and ask people to vote then and their for them from their devices. People who care about these elections and bylaws go on to be bureaucrats.

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