One-time ASU presidential candidate was reinstated after being disqualified for breaking the rules

A presidential candidate was disqualified and then let back into the race after he was found to be violating the rules.

By Angela Thompson, Staff Writer

A campaign flyer for then ASU presidential nominee Vardan Tonakanyan on a Refreshment Center Kiosk in front of The Monarch Cafe. Monday, April 26, 2021. Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Stephen Castaneda/The Valley Star)

Former ASU presidential candidate Vardan Tonakanyan was disqualified from the spring 2021 election after he had violated campaign rules, but was allowed to continue after the decision was downgraded to a five-day suspension.

"All candidates are responsible for following all instructions and rules established by the Election Committee,” Section 6.D of the ASU Election Code states.

Tonakanyan had posted flyers on campus promoting his campaign, despite candidates being asked to campaign strictly online due to the closure of campus, according to ASU Advisor Monica Flores. Tonakanyan signed a form on April 2 stating that he understood the rules and regulations of the Election Code.

The flyers were discovered by another candidate on April 21 and brought to the attention of the Election Committee and the chair and commissioner of political affairs, Luoi Sabha. The Election Committee declared Tonakanyan disqualified from the electoral process.

“I think he just isn't paying attention to the rules and regulations,” said Sabha.

Current ASU President Farouk Ajibola stated that the Election Code was gone over with all of the candidates and, although some of the code was redacted due to the pandemic, he believes the other candidates had no issues because it was clearly explained. These were the same guidelines Ajibola ran under last year as well, therefore he is very familiar with them. Ajibola is part of the Election Committee that decided on Tonakanyan’s disqualification from the electoral process and stated, “He [Tonakanyan] campaigned on campus which violated the Election Code.”

However, Tonakanyan appealed the decision to the vice president of student services, Florentino Manzano, and was able to get the disqualification reduced to a five-day suspension, beginning on April 23. Voting began April 25 and ended on April 30, therefore three out of five of his suspension days were voting days.

Manzano claimed that there was not enough evidence in his opinion to disqualify Tonakanyan from the race and according to him, Tonakanyan responded “I don’t even know what the accusation is about and I have no knowledge or know of any flyers that were posted.”

The only evidence of the violation presented to Manzano, was a picture of a flyer posted on campus in an email from opposing presidential candidate Sandra Sanchez, who later won the position in the spring 2021 ASU election.

Manzano contacted Tonakanyan again, who then admitted that he had gone on to campus to post the flyers, but was not aware that this was a campaign violation. The Valley Star reached out to Tonakanyan, who admitted to posting the flyers on April 13. Manzano believes that Tonakanyan was unaware of the allegations against him, even though he made an appeal.

However since he was not directly asked to remove flyers from campus, Tonakanyan was technically still able to campaign throughout his suspension by keeping them posted. Some people, including Sanchez and Ajibola, see it as a violation and disapprove of Manzano’s decisions.

Flores informed the Valley Star that Tonakanyan “was not asked to remove the flyers, therefore it would not be a violation” of his suspension and he will not be penalized. Manzano added that he did not include removal of the flyers into Tonakanyan’s suspension because asking a student to go back onto campus could be considered unsafe.

“I don’t think the gravity of this infraction raised to the level of disqualification,” said Manzano. “You know the fact that somebody posted earlier a flyer did not warrant, to me and my assessment, of a disqualification, but just a suspension.”

It may be unclear if Manzano believed the complaint Tonakanyan was being accused of was having flyers up before April 2 or if the flyers were posted on the ASU building, which Manzano did not see enough evidence for. Sanchez did not file her claim until April 22 and her main concern was that the flyer was posted by the ASU building, which candidates are not allowed to campaign near, according to the Election Code.

The email Sanchez received from Flores about Manzano’s decision to overturn the decision of the Elections Committee mentioned that part of it was based around his flyers “being placed prior to April 2, 2021.” However, no one seems to know where the date April 2 was brought up in the accusations.

The Elections Committee made their decision based on the fact that the candidate violated the Election Code after signing a document, agreeing to the terms and conditions. The decision, according to the chair of the Elections Committee, was unanimous. Both Ajibola and Sabha agree something must be done.

Sabha and ASU Treasurer Erica Fletcher have announced they are working on fixing the Election Code so that something like this does not happen again.

“These are weird times and things come up and when there’s not a super clear code and a set of guidelines to follow things can get really muddled so I think it’s a great idea and I think it’s a good time to revise,” said Katy Workman, commissioner of fine arts on creating on a new Election Code.

“It seems like the theme of 2020 and 2021 is unprecedented and this is just a good instance for us to strengthen our Election Code,” responded Sabha to Workman’s comment. “The ASU is important and we do a lot for the students here so we have to take it seriously, we can’t just let anybody try to get in, that’s why there’s an election process and why people campaign and they make statements and there’s a code to follow.”

Soren Blomquist Eggerling contributed to this story.