Winning presidential slate Truman Fritz and Rose Ritch violated the Undergraduate Student Government 2020 Elections Code during last month’s campaigning, the USG Elections Commission found by a unanimous vote.
The Elections Commission met on Feb. 13, the last day of the three-day voting period, to address separate complaints filed by Sara Khoshniyati, USG senator and presidential candidate, and Camilo Daza Manga, a member of USG who was not affiliated with any campaign. The two complained about a mass email the Truman-Rose team sent on Feb. 11 to potential voters who had not subscribed to receive campaign materials.
The candidates were found to have violated Section VIII.A.2 of the Elections Code, which restricts the use of mass messaging and spamming voters.
The Elections Commission disciplined the candidates by banning them from further campaigning in person and by requiring them to publicize a way for recipients to inquire about how their email addresses had been obtained. The loss of in-person campaigning began at noon on the final day of voting , and the latter was to be completed by 2 p.m.
Although USG issued periodic reminders on social media for students to vote, it did not announce the disciplining of the Truman-Rose team. The recording of the hearing and the written decision were quietly uploaded to the USG website under the elections tab.
“To our interpretation, we did not use departmental or university-maintained listservs, so we did not believe this was restricted under the purview of these documents,” Fritz wrote in an email to Annenberg Media on behalf of himself and Ritch.
The email also explained how their campaign team had access to student email addresses.
“We obtained these emails through our personal contacts, the contacts of our campaign team, and through internal mailing lists collected from our times involved in various student organizations across USC including Trojan Marketing Group and Nice Jewish Queers,” explained Fritz.
Vaanyasri Goel, USG’s director of elections and recruitment, said all candidates were made aware of the rules in the Elections Code, which was first released in November.
“My team and I host sessions and info. sessions with the candidates and the student body to emphasize the importance of familiarizing yourself with the codes,” Goel wrote in an email. “So we try to regulate the process to our best ability with the guidance of the pro staff as well.”
The Truman-Rose mass email in question was sent Feb. 11 with the subject line “USG voting is OPEN! 🗳️bit.ly/votetr20.” It included information about how students could vote and encouraged recipients to share the email. It directed students to the Truman-Rose website, social media and graphics.
“There has never been a better time for students to take charge in the University, and our campaign hopes to leverage our 5 years of combined experience to do just that,” Fritz and Ritch wrote in their campaign email.
Daza Manga, co-director of first-year affairs for USG’s advocacy team, told Annenberg Media that he was concerned that the Truman-Rose campaign email had gone to students who had previously provided their email addresses to other student organizations for non-election-related purposes.
“My contention with it was if these people knew when they filled out these surveys that their emails would be used in the future for the purpose that was not the original intention,” Daza Manga said.
Khoshniyati had similar concerns about the Truman-Rose email.
“I don’t want people to have the wrong interpretation of student government because we do have access to a lot of resources and during an election we are not supposed to utilize them,” she said.
Fritz currently serves as the USG senior director of communication and Ritch is serving as a senator. They begin their terms as president and vice president in April.
Daza Manga explained that although he supports the duo, he believes that the emails did give them an unfair advantage with exposure.
“It was concerning for me because if they go to those lengths for those emails, then what lengths will they go to in the future ... I do feel if they are straight up about it, are transparent, they can produce great results for the university,” he said.