As this year’s Student Government (SG) winds down, senators are rushing to tie loose ends that must be addressed before the chamber doors close until the summer term.
Nick Russo, a student in the Muma College of Business and previous senate candidate, stood in front of the three SG Supreme Court Justices on Thursday night to plead his case.
“May it please the court and opposing council, we are here today to discuss an election that should never have happened,” Russo said.
His grievance, filed April 6, was brought against the Election Rules Commission (ERC). The grievance stated Russo’s rights were violated by the ERC when an expedited election was conducted and Russo lost the seat in senate, which he previously won in the general election.
The expedited election was held last month because the eligible candidates were misrepresented on the original ballot, specifically Joshua Smith who ran for a seat from the Muma College of Business. Smith was on the ballot of the College of Arts and Sciences for six hours on the first day of voting.
Smith should have been on the ballot for the Muma College of Business. When applying for candidacy, he had applied to run for the Muma College of Business.
The ERC stated the election was held to protect constitutional due process by the implementation of this second election. Since Smith was left off the ballot, the ERC reasoned, he was not allowed due process in the first election.
According to Russo’s brief, the ERC improperly interpreted its statutes to create an illicit election. Statutes state an expedited election is required in the event that a “Supreme Court ruling or other circumstances result in an election needing to be rescheduled.”
Throughout the trial, Russo re-emphasized the impropriety of the election on the basis that the term “rescheduled” does not apply to events that have already happened, rather to those that have not occurred.
“The definition … does not state by what circumstances an election needs to be rescheduled for,” said SG Attorney General Alex Johnson in response to Russo’s argument. “The definition is not restrictive in the nature that the petitioner interprets, as no statute indicates exactly when an expedited election may be held, other than by court ruling or if the (ERC) supervisor chooses to conduct one.”
On Feb. 23, the SG Supreme Court authorized the expedited election and stated the ERC was at fault for leaving Smith off the ballot.
However, Johnson said Smith, a current SG senator occupying an at-large seat, might not even be eligible for a seat in the Senate because of continually getting points against his record.
To be pointed out of the Senate is to receive 10 or more points from the Senate Executive Committee, according to Senate Rules of Procedure. Points are given for tardiness, absence and failure to vote on at least 75 percent of legislation during each meeting.
According to statutes, “any senator removed from the Senate for being pointed out may not be eligible to run for or hold a Senate seat for one calendar year after being pointed out.”
In addition to his concern for the election’s definition, Russo brought up the change in dynamics between the general and expedited election.
“Candidates who amassed hundreds of votes during the general election saw their vote count drop into the double digits,” he said.
The justices presented this point to Johnson, but he maintained it was up to the candidates to encourage voter turnout. According to Johnson, despite the existence of only a single unmanned voting station at the MSC during the expedited election, candidates were responsible for earning the same number of votes.
Near the end of the trial, one justice asked about the practicality of the trial.
“Why were we allowing a second election to occur if somebody who is no longer eligible for the Senate is allowed to run?” said Associate Justice Richard LaMura, questioning the value of defending someone’s due process if they are not owed due process.
In other words, if Smith cannot run, a second election would not benefit him at all.
The court is still deliberating the case with a decision expected early this week.
In face of grievance, elected senator steps down:
Another highly contested Muma College of Business seat in the SG senate race has opened up. Anika Hasan won her seat in the expedited election, but a grievance against her campaign was filed soon after.
Hasan had sent a campaign message to members of a class, citing her leadership roles on campus — including her position as a teaching assistant.
Before the case went to trial, Hasan backed out of the senate position, which left another Senate seat available.
Acting Chief Justice denied position, resigns:
As the SG Supreme Court met Thursday to hear Russo’s case, the acting chief justice, Daniel Shapiro, was missing from the court.
Following Tuesday’s Senate meeting, in which senators voted against confirming Shapiro as next semester’s chief justice, a member of SG’s advising, training and operations office said Shapiro stepped down from his position.
Many questioned Shapiro’s ethics at Tuesday’s meeting. The discussion particularly revolved around Shapiro knowingly breaking the rules by electing a ranking chief justice. Positions cannot be elected when there are not five justices on the court and, at the time, there were only four sitting members.
When confronted over the broken rule, according to a text message typed by Senator Corey Ulloa, Shapiro said “the court could break rules if it feels necessary” and the Judicial Review Panel was “more of a joke anyways.”
As to why it may be sometimes acceptable to bend the rules, Shapiro defended himself at Tuesday’s Senate and cited Abraham Lincoln as a leader who rose above the law during the Civil War in order to protect the greater rights of citizens.
Second shot at concealed carry resolution:
SG Senate will once again vote Tuesday on whether to send a resolution regarding concealed carry to state leaders. There is currently a bill (SB 176 and HB 4005) in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives that would allow concealed carry of firearms on public university campuses.
The resolution was tabled at last week’s SG meeting to amend what many senators saw as an emotional proclamation against concealed carry. Instead, the amended version presents the results of a survey that gathered student opinion on the issue — absent of any opinion given on behalf of the students.
-— Additional reporting by Wesley Higgins