Petitioners Raise Concerns

Story By: Jesse Franz, Ramiro Gudino & Iesha Mendez, Rampage Reporters

The presence of Americans Elect petitioners on the Fresno City College campus on April 26 and 26 is raising concerns about the approval process for access to the college campus, students and staff.

Many are asking questions about the motives of the American Elect petitioners and whether they were the FCC campus under false pretenses.

According to information on  the Americans Elect website, the organization’s goal is “for our democracy to be more open and our government to be more accountable to the people.” However, people on campus have raised questions about how “open” and “accountable” Americans Elect is itself.

Michael Guerra, Vice-President of Administrative Services,  said, “We require a facilities request to be filed and approved before anyone can set up a table, tent, or other structure in a campus common area.”  But Jackson Leroy and Chris Gomez, the American’s Elect petitioners that came to the FCC campus, did not seek or obtain proper permits.

Guerra also said, “We do ask groups or individuals that have not obtained facilities request approval for tables or booths to remove them.” But the Americans Elect personnel were able to set up their tent and table and openly solicited signatures from students and staff of the college. They were not removed or accosted by any FCC officials.

Under their red tent, the petitioners asked students and faculty to sign to support Americans Elect’s cause, but were either unable or unwilling to explain what that was. Their explanation ranged from that they were trying to put a third party candidate on the ballot to that they were trying to support online voting. They would not answer additional questions.

Gerry Bill, retired professor of history, said the petitioners should not be on the FCC campus.  Bill said they “were gathering signatures under false pretenses. They were telling people that the petition was to put a measure for electronic voting on the California ballot. In reality, the petition made no mention of electronic voting.”

The petitioners had refused to answer questions from Rampage reporters about their actions. Gerry Bill said that the American Elect organization is known statewide for dubious activities.

Alexis Tittle, a reporter attending Grossmont College, had reported earlier in the GCSummit after the group visited her college that she asked one of the petitioners, Randy Shimizu, what the petition stood for and was told he was not allowed to talk to the press.  His co-worker Tony Willson had also commented, “I don’t know what (Americans Elect) are doing. They just gave us a piece of paper and said, ‘do not talk to the press’.”

Professor Bill is concerned about the lack of transparency as well as these petitioners’ authenticity. He cautioned that in the wrong hands, information given on invalid petitions could result in identity theft. Some have questioned whether college authorities are taking all the necessary steps to protect students from dishonest petitioners.

Guerra insists, however, that the “‘legitimacy’ of any petition… is not an issue that concerns college police or administration.”  He said it is the responsibility of the students to protect themselves from fraud.

“If a student does not feel that he or she knows enough about a group to sign their petition, or is not satisfied with the group’s response to their questions, then the student shouldn’t sign the petition,” Guerra said. “It is not the college’s responsibility or right to protect the students from others’ exercise of their free speech rights, including gathering signatures.”