Campaigning for student body president started in early February, but it wasn’t until this Friday that students heard what could be the final result of the lengthy process of appeals and grievances to determine the next leader of Student Government (SG).
The SG Supreme Court released its official opinion Friday, ruling 4-1 that “the Election Rules Commission (ERC) must unconditionally certify Jean Cocco and Rhondel Whyte as the 55th term student body president and vice president.”
“It was a tough process for everybody,” Cocco said. “A lot of people didn’t understand what the rules were properly, a lot of people were skeptical of how Student Government was handling it. Things could’ve been handled in a different rather than us having to win three times … but we got through it.”
Cocco had previously won the vote count against candidates Brandi Arnold and Danish Hasan in the general student body elections with 48 percent of the 4,928 votes, and received 52 percent of the 3,651 votes in the runoff election against Arnold.
During the process, Cocco was assessed by the ERC to have violated four campaign rules while Arnold was named student body president-elect by the ERC. Cocco appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, which held its hearing last Wednesday.
According to the official opinion of the court, the ERC failed to apply “the proper burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” and unconstitutionally conflicted with the campaign’s due process. The court also found “considerable truth” in Cocco’s claims of “bias within the ERC.”
The ruling stated all grievances assessed to the Cocco/Whyte campaign be reversed, “the ERC shall cease to hold anymore grievance hearings regarding the 2014 general and runoff election,” and further recommends a revision of the ERC Rules of Procedure.
Arnold said the long process tested her values and ethics, saying she has “personally grown.” While she said she would not “point fingers,” she said the hardest part of the process was “seeing other students act unethically,” and said she disagreed with the court’s ruling. She said Cocco did break campaign rules, and that the rules needed to be upheld.
Current student body president William Warmke said this year’s election process was “uglier than it needed to be,” compared to his election last year which only included two candidates that was resolved in a simple election with no grievances.
He said this year’s election “definitely showed how much the candidates want the job.”
“I can only imagine how hard it is for these candidates to deal with that struggle of campaigning, the appeals and their schoolwork on top of that,” Warmke said.
As those who followed the election on social media could see, various criticisms of SG were made, one article on a USF sports blog that was shared more than 400 times on Facebook was even titled “Democracy Suspended at USF as Student Government Fails at Virtually Everything.”
While Warmke said he invited students to ask him about the election process and explain various aspects of SG, he said he remained uninvolved in the election, leaving it to the ERC per SG statutes.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what has been going on with student government,” he said. “I think a lot of students don’t know what was going on… I think it is unfair to hold Student Government under those accusations when none of them are valid.”
Though the Supreme Court ruling requires the ERC to certify Cocco as president by 5 p.m. today, SG statutes permit Supreme Court rulings to be appealed to the Dean for Students.