The assistant Undergraduate Student Government elections commissioner for the Downtown Phoenix campus was asked to step down following an incident that occurred at a USGD debate on Monday.
Dawson Chute, the former assistant USGD elections commissioner, hosted the debate and read questions from the Zoom webinar chat while student journalists moderated. Two of the three USGD executive tickets, the Hubbard ticket and the Vemuri ticket, participated in the debate.
While questions were being taken from the Q&A chat in the Zoom webinar, an inappropriate question was asked about the Vemuri ticket’s candidate for vice president of policy, Spencer Van McClure.
Before realizing it was inappropriate, Chute began reading the question, which was only viewable to the panelists, six candidates and himself. He only read a few words before he stopped, deleted the question and removed the person who asked it from the call.
The person who asked the question was USGD President candidate McKenna Hubbard's mother, Chute said. Chute, a junior studying public service and public policy, said Hubbard's mother gained access to the call from McKenna's sibling's ASU-affiliated email.
"We are deeply disturbed by the baseless comments that were directed at our ticket during Monday’s executive ticket debate, where an adult directly associated with a candidate impersonated a student to harass another candidate during the debate," a statement from the Vemuri ticket said.
In a statement, the Hubbard ticket said it cannot be held responsible for the actions of those outside of their campaign.
"We most prominently value honesty and kindness among candidates before, during and after the election," the Hubbard statement said. "Such personal matters should have not been disclosed publicly as it does not instill trust in our election system nor benefit our student body."
Chute said Hubbard called to explain and apologize for the incident, and she gave him permission to pass the information on to the Vemuri ticket.
“During the call, (Hubbard) expressed that they did not see (the question) coming, and they were very clearly upset by what had happened,” Chute said.
Chute contacted the Vemuri ticket the day following the debate, with the candidate’s permission, to inform them of what had happened.
The information provided by Chute prompted the Vemuri ticket to consider filing a Code of Conduct complaint, where the elections commission was made aware that Chute had shared information.
The elections commission then asked Chute to resign because he had broken his rule of impartiality.
“Essentially they were asking me to step down during that call because I shared information from the phone call between the Hubbard and the Vemuri tickets,” Chute said. “My biggest issue was that I had permission from (Hubbard).”
According to Chute, after taking advice from the elections commission, the Vemuri ticket declined to issue a complaint. The ticket can no longer file, in accordance with ASASU rules that require tickets to file a complaint within a day of the issue occurring.
"We were told that there was not sufficient evidence to file a complaint because the harasser was a parent of the candidate rather than the candidate themselves," Renuka Vemuri, the candidate for USGD president wrote in an email.
Chute said he believes the elections commission discouraged the Vemuri ticket from filing a complaint to avoid issues similar to last year's Undergraduate Student Government Tempe elections.
“I believe that ASU wanted to save face ultimately,” Chute said. “After last year they wanted to take responsibility away from them so that they didn’t have any issues.”
Following Monday's incident, the Vemuri ticket is worried similar occurrences will affect student interest in USG.
"There is no need for student government elections to be this taxing on candidates, and we want the elections commission and advisors to consider how such incidents discourage students from getting involved," the Vemuri ticket said in their statement. "As a ticket, we hope to foster an environment within USGD, and the downtown campus overall, where students feel safe and included."
Ben Davis, the USG elections commissioner, will take over Chute's responsibilities for the remainder of election season, according to the USG Elections Department.
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