The Student Government Supreme Court released its official opinion document Wednesday explaining its rationale for nullifying the results of the recent student body presidential elections. Included in the seven-page-long document is the Court’s opinion about how the next student body president and vice president should be chosen as well as the dissenting opinions of two justices.
“With a 3-1-1 ruling, the Court finds the election results null and void due to severe violations of the governing documents by the Election Rules Commission. The Court will issue its opinion within the statutory requirement,” stated the ruling of the Court, originally issued last Friday.
The Court determined that the ERC, which governed the recent student body elections, broke several of its own rules throughout the election.
The hearing that led to the Court’s decision spanned weeks, and in that time the ERC certified the results of the election with Frank Harrison and Faran Abbasi as the student body president-elect and vice president-elect, respectively.
Student Affairs, which SG falls under, has taken note of the situation. Dean of Students Tom Miller has said on multiple occasions that SA will most likely have a role in sorting out the confusing situation and determining whether the decision of the Court or the ERC will stand.
Miller has said throughout the election situation that SA needs to examine the Court’s opinion document before making any decision.
He said Wednesday afternoon that he had not had time to thoroughly examine the Court’s opinion document and as a result could not comment on it. He did say SA would not be dragging its feet on the situation, and his hope is for SA to reach a decision by Friday.
THE COURT’S PROPOSAL
The Court calls for a new ERC to be formed. Nobody with any relation to any campaign, grievance filed or SG in general would be permitted to be a member of the ERC. The opinion states that if there are problems forming the ERC, Miller would then have to appoint students.
A new election would then be held and would theoretically be over by the end of April – which is where things get extremely complex.
All points assessed to tickets by the previous ERC would be erased and all grievances filed against tickets would be reinvestigated, regardless of the findings of the previous ERC. Student body presidential tickets are assessed points for breaking campaign rules; a ticket with 10 points is disqualified.
The new ERC would investigate all grievances filed before the general election took place on Feb. 28 and March 1 and assess points as it sees fit.
If one of the tickets in the original runoff, either the Harrison/Abbasi ticket or the Ben Sens and Ernest “E.J.” Joe ticket, were to be disqualified, then a new general election would be held without that ticket. Former candidates Jeremy Bills and his running mate Joy Gamble-George and Kyle Myers and his running mate Aadil Modi would then be able to participate in that election. No new candidates would be permitted to run.
If the new ERC has not disqualified either of the tickets in the original runoff at that point, then it would proceed to investigate all grievances filed during the original runoff. At that point, if either the Harrison/Abbasi ticket or the Sens/Joe ticket were disqualified, whichever one was not disqualified would be deemed victorious.
THE COURT’S REASONING
The Court’s opinion gave a laundry list of instances in which it found the ERC had broken its own rules.
According to the Court, the ERC failed to properly investigate several claims of campaign rules violations against the Harrison/Abbasi ticket and as a result failed to properly assess points to the ticket.
The Court also determined that the ERC hindered the Sens/Joe campaign by telling their ticket – and only their ticket – to stop campaigning days before the general election. Due to confusion at the time regarding the validity of the ERC, candidates were not supposed to campaign and only the Sens/Joe ticket was told about it. The Court wrote in its opinion that “the election results were unduly influenced because of the unequal treatment.”
The general election led to a runoff between the Harrison/Abbasi ticket and the Sens/Joe ticket a week later, in which the Harrison/Abbasi ticket garnered 1,727 votes to the Sens/Joe ticket’s 1,528.
The ERC was also accused of acting maliciously biased in favor of the Harrison/Abbasi ticket, but the Court found the ERC was biased but not malicious.
Harrison, who could possibly lose the most if the Court’s ruling upheld, stood by his previous statements that the Court was not in a position to hold the hearing in the first place. He added that because he feels the Court never should have held the hearing, its decision and remedy are not legitimate.
“If you don’t believe that the Court had proper jurisdiction over the case in the first place, then any subsequent decisions they’re making on it are, in a sense, null and void,” Harrison said.
He also said he had issues with how the Court planned to fix the situation.
“The remedy provided is problematic, to say the least,” Harrison said.
He said he had problems with the Court giving specific orders to other parts of SG and SA as to how to hold a new election and questioned whether the Court had that authority.
Sens, however, was pleased with the Court’s opinion document.
“This decision provides the student body with the opportunity to elect a legitimate government through a fair election,” Sens said. “I think that the elections will be run in such a way that students will have the opportunity to have a voice here.”
He added he thinks the Court’s opinion will stand, not the ERC’s.
“I trust that Student Affairs will respect the Supreme Court for the students, restoring integrity within the Student Government,” Sens said.
DISSENT FROM WITHIN THE COURT
The Court’s opinion document included two anonymous dissenting opinions.
The first stated that the harm caused by the ERC was not as great as the potential harm of nullifying the election results. It went on to mention the recent problems that have been troubling SG and said that too often members of SG try to find ways around rules for personal ends.
“It is rather interesting how over the last two months the Student Government has managed to cause one controversy after another and how the major concern seems to be how to undermine the checks and balances of the system, or get around the rules in general,” the first dissenter wrote.
The second dissenting opinion wrote that while there were problems with the election, they did not warrant such a huge decision as to nullify the recent election results.
It also went on to say there was not enough time to hold a new election before the end of the semester and cited the case in which the 2000 U.S. presidential election issue was resolved. It was determined then that the election results stood because there was not time to continue recounts or hold a new election.
WHAT IT MEANS & WHAT’S NEXT
Student Affairs and Student Government need to determine whether the opinion of the Election Rules Commission or the opinion of the SG Supreme Court will stand. The ERC says that the student body presidential elections are over and Frank Harrison and Faran Abbasi are the student body president-elect and vice president-elect, respectively. The Court, however, has ruled the recent election null and void and set up guidelines for a new election.