Ore. journalists barred from student vote tally

OREGON — When college journalists at the University of Oregon showed up to cover their student government association’s vote tally after a campus primary election, they were turned away and told they had no right to be there. 

The barred reporters filed a grievance about the incident in late February with the university student court, which dismissed the case and told them they would have to cite rules calling for such meetings to be open, Oregon Commentator publisher Bret Jacobson said.

Reporters had been allowed to observe the tally until last year. The election board was unsure whether it would continue letting them in and if it was required to do so, Jacobson said. 

“Upon further review they decided no, that they didn’t have to let us in, but they said that if we could prove to them that we were allowed to, that the burden was on us as opposed to them,” he said. 

Jacobson said he and another Commentator reporter showed up on the evening of the tally to see if the board had changed its mind. It had not and they were told to leave, along with a photographer from the Daily Emerald, another student newspaper, he said.

Kara Cogswell, student activities editor for the Emerald, claims the Associated Students of the University of Oregon election board denied media access to its vote tally because board members did not like a Commentator reporter who was present. In an article for the Emerald, Cogswell quoted election coordinator Courtney Hight as saying that she denied entry to the media because the reporter was rude to her.

Hight did not respond to requests for comment.

Jacobson said that his fellow staff member made “a snide snip” at the election board when he was told to leave, but it was before the vote counting began and did not interfere in any way with the process.

Jack Orchard, legal counsel for the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, said the reporters should have been granted access to the tally as long as their behavior did not impede the count.

Based on his past dealings with the student court, Orchard said he was not surprised at its dismissal of the grievance. The student court has “a certain amount of disdain for the student newspaper” and “acts as if it’s not really accountable to anybody,” he said.

The findings of the student court are equivalent to non-binding arbitration agreements, Orchard said, and student reporters could still take their case to a court of law regardless of the outcome on campus.  

Jacobson said the Commentator may consider re-filing its grievance with the student court, but he is more hopeful that the incoming executive branch of the student government will enact a policy granting media access to its vote tallies.