On Wednesday April 22nd, ASUCM court released a long legal document involving current Presidential candidate Christopher Bernal. This document contained the final verdict made by the ASUCM Judicial Branch in the court case between Bernal and the Elections Commissioner.
The case began slightly over a week ago, when Election Commissioner Iliana Rosales asked Bernal to terminate his campaign after multiple complaints were filed by students involved with ASUCM. Bernal was accused of perceived ASUCM bylaw violations in campaign advertising and slandering his opponent Kathryn Fitzgerald’s campaign.
Bernal posted more campaign flyers around campus than were allowed by the ASUCM elections bylaws. These flyers had also not been approved for posting by the office of Student Life, another ASUCM election bylaw requirement. Bernal was also accused of actively searching for slanderous information about Fitzgerald. The exact nature of the slandering was not released.
With several complaints containing circumstantial or anecdotal evidence, the elections commissioner made the decision to terminate Bernal’s campaign. The termination of the campaign was not made public and Bernal continued to campaign despite being terminated by the elections commissioner. Immediately after the termination, Christopher Bernal filed an appeal to reinstate his campaign, resulting in the Bernal v Elections Commission court case.
The document eventually released by ASUCM court (found here) explained the verdict, as well as supporting and dissenting opinions.
Based on the elections commissioner’s arguments during the case as well as the evidence presented by the complaints, the court found that the termination of Bernal’s presidential campaign was unjustified. The court’s decision could be drawn to three reasons. 1: The commissioner felt overwhelmed by the amount of complaints coming from prominent figures within ASUCM, including Bernal’s opponent Katelyn Fitzgerald. 2: The elections commissioner’s decision to terminate Bernal’s campaign was made without an in-depth investigation or warnings to the candidate. 3: The elections commissioner made the decision based on faulty evidence. Although Bernal’s presidential campaign was reinstated the verdict stated that he must remove all campaign materials from campus and social media as well as provide a written apology to the student body of UC Merced for failing to adhere to the bylaws. In the apology letter released by Christopher Bernal on April 25th, he stated that he knowingly disobeyed the bylaws in hopes to bring awareness to the coming ASUCM elections (letter foundhere).
The Bernal v Elections Commissioner court case has had a noticeable impact on campus. Christopher Bernal’s “Vote for Bernal” and “Feel the Bernal” posters are now nowhere to be seen on campus. However, he will remain on the ballot and students will be able to vote for him on April 26th and 27th. The court case has sparked discussion amongst students. With the court document released to the public, students are discussing whether or not the slandering and the motivations behind the apparent slandering merit deeper investigation.
All information presented from here on is based on the complaints and testimonies from people close to Bernal’s campaign. None of the following information has been made official, but much of it has been corroborated by multiple sources.
According to multiple sources, Bernal and his associates have been asking around for information that could be used against Bernal’s opponent, Katelyn Fitzgerald. Students that have class or meetings with Bernal’s associates or even with Bernal himself have claimed they have asked for any information that could be used to defame Katelyn’s persona and/or campaign.
Both presidential candidates were asked to give a statement to the court case and the verdict. Katelyn Fitzgerald stated, “I never expected for the complaints to reach the level of disqualification. But it is unfair for all the candidates since we are all trying hard to follow the by-laws”. In regards to the slandering allegations she stated, “Slandering should not be allowed at all. Students should remember that candidates are people too.” Christopher Bernal’s statement was not received in time for the article’s posting, but will be edited in if/when it is received.
We urge all UC Merced students to read up on each candidate’s platforms as well as reach out to the candidates personally. And most importantly, don’t forget to vote on April 26th and 27th on CatLife.