The chance meeting of a wiener dog and a bunny upon the PSU Park Blocks resulted in the disqualification of student senate candidate Cassandra Fowler, following a decision made early Thursday morning by the Elections Committee.
Student Fee Committee candidate Shannon Eikum said Fowler verbally threatened to kill Eikum and Eikum’s dachshund after the dog got within range of Fowler’s rabbit while playing fetch Wednesday.
The incident was the latest in a string of complaints filed by both campaigns that have tainted the elections process this year. The Elections Committee of the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) has been in a rush to deliberate on all complaints that were filed, as Thursday was the final day for voting in the election.
The committee’s attempts this year to institute penalties for ASPSU campaign infractions have not proven wholly successful in deterring bizarre incidents from occurring during the elections process. At the Thursday meeting’s end, several complaints remained to be heard and have been scheduled for a Friday morning meeting.
"Everyone in this election has made mistakes, myself and the elections committee included," said Ryan Schowen, chair of the Elections Committee, at the Thursday meeting. "We all need to take responsibility for that."
Complaints being heard by the committee Friday could result in more candidates being disqualified, or even possibly the election results being nullified entirely. Uncertainty over the outcome of Friday’s meeting was one reason often cited by sources involved with student government in explaining student government’s refusal to release election results, even unofficial ones, until 12 p.m. Friday despite the polls closing at 12 p.m. Thursday.
The Vanguard repeatedly requested the student government disclose the election results to the media Thursday for publication Friday afternoon, but President Christy Harper refused.
On Wednesday, the committee penalized the Barron/Craven slate for a campaign agent, student Senator Joe Johnson, sending an email soliciting votes to several university listservs. The penalty required president and vice president candidates Amanda Barron and Lindsey Craven from posting campaign materials on campus property for 48 hours.
The committee began Thursday by ruling on several complaints that resulted in "major violation" penalties being assessed to the Devaney/Woon slate. Most notably, the incident between Fowler, a Devaney/Woon senate candidate, and Eikum resulted in the committee voting to disqualify Fowler from the election.
According to Eikum’s testimony, Fowler called her "an F-ing bitch" and said "’I’ll kill you and your little fucking rat-dog.’"
"I didn’t say ‘F-ing’" Fowler said.
Fowler said she threatened the dog, but not Eikum. "I told her ‘pick up your dog or I’ll fuckin’ kill it,’" she said.
"I shouldn’t have said I was going to kill her dog, cause I wouldn’t have," Fowler continued. "I’m for animals. I like animals. They’re cool. I’m pro-dog, anti-Shannon Eikum – that’s all I have to say."
Saying she feared for her life, Eikum added that she filed a campaign violation form immediately. At the meeting time, she planned to file a student conduct code violation and report the incident to Campus Public Safety.
College Republican Cameron Turner and senate candidate Steve Yousten corroborated Eikum’s account with slight variations.
Fowler was not present at the meeting.
Fowler said she hadn’t been concerned about attending Thursday’s meeting. "I didn’t think it was about me, so I didn’t worry about coming," she said. "I don’t really like getting up at 7:30 [a.m.]. It’s weak."
At press time, Fowler planned to attend Friday morning’s judicial board hearing to appeal the election committee’s ruling.
Presidential and vice presidential candidates Erin Devaney and Molly Woon said they first heard of the incident at the hearing Thursday morning.
"We were both pretty shocked," Woon said. "Cassandra is kind of like comic relief for us, but there are some times when she’s crossed the line."
"There are processes that people go through to prove there was a violation of student conduct," Devaney said. "No one from the elections committee was there, they didn’t see what happened … It’s concerning to me that they’re willing to disqualify candidates."
The committee ruled that Fowler’s alleged statements did not "support the academic mission of the University," citing language from the election committee bylaws.
"There’s no place in the election for threats of this nature," committee member Aaron O’Donnell said.
"I would say it does not break any rules [of free speech] to disqualify any candidate," Natalee Webb, who advises student government for Student Activities and Leadership Programs (SALP), told the committee.
The committee determined that Fowler "may or may not have violated the code of conduct."
Besides Fowler’s disqualification, the punitive measures were largely ceremonial.
The new system assigns 10-point major and one-point minor violations for various infractions. Either after incurring one major or 10 minor violations, candidates have 24 hours to remove campaign fliers and posters.
The Devaney/Woon slate and presidential candidate Amanda Barron had already been assigned major violations Wednesday morning, forcing removal of all Devaney/Woon and Barron campaign fliers by Thursday. By the time the committee handed down the penalties, all Devaney/Woon materials had already been taken down.
According to senator and SFC candidate Adas Lis, a member of the Devaney/Woon slate, the Devaney/Woon candidates and agents left posters up for the full school day Wednesday, only taking the signs down after students went home for the day. They were well within the 24 hour deadline.
"People are racking up points left and right," senator and SFC candidate Ana Johns said.
The committee did not address options for reigning in errant campaigners whose signs had already been removed, though Chair Ryan Schowen described the final stage of campaigning as "open-ended point-racking."
Instead, the committee reviewed various allegations against the Devaney/Woon slate, centering around Woon’s connection to College Democrats, who set up and manned a polling station in the Park Blocks on Woon’s laptop computer.
The committee discussed whether or not Woon, who is president of the student group, had approached within 25 feet of a polling place – a no-no for all candidates – and whether College Democrats could be campaigning on behalf of Woon.
The College Democrats’ table was decorated with blue balloons and yellow strings. Yellow, the Devaney/Woon campaign color, showed a tacit support for the slate, O’Donnell said.
"It’s the colors that get me," he said. "It sounds like there’s more going on than saying ‘vote here.’"
Woon stressed that she had disassociated herself from the group to avoid a conflict of interest. "I was very careful about it. I know the rules," she said. "There are 80 people involved in College Democrats that have nothing to do with Devaney/Woon," she said. "I’m flattered and thrilled that they would choose to support me, but I certainly didn’t ask for it."
"I don’t see the problem with a political group campaigning. That’s what political groups do," Woon said. "I’m surprised other groups haven’t done this. Why wouldn’t they, with voter turnout the way it is? We want people to vote."
-Additional reporting by Matt Petrie