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ERC appeals Court ruling on president-elect


After two voting cycles and a Student Government (SG) Supreme Court hearing, next year’s student body president is still uncertain after the Election Rules Commission (ERC) appealed the court’s decision to overturn the ERC’s ruling that disqualified the candidate with the most votes in the runoff elections, Jean Cocco, based on grievances.

According to Dean for Students, Michael Freeman, the ERC filed the appeal to his office Tuesday afternoon.

The appeal comes after the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday that led to Cocco being certified as president-elect Monday afternoon. 

The ruling stated the ERC failed to apply the “burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” while assessing grievances against Cocco’s campaign for student body president, and failed to give the campaign its due process. But the ERC is now challenging the ruling to the Dean for Students, who will decide whether the Supreme Court’s ruling will be upheld. 

Supervisor for Elections and ERC head, Sayf Hassouneh, declined to comment on what grounds the appeal would be made on. 

Cocco said the extension of the election process has been “mentally draining.” 

Cocco received 48 percent of the student votes in the general election between three candidates and 52 percent of the vote in the runoff election against Brandi Arnold, who was named president-elect after the ERC ruled the Cocco campaign violated four election rules.

“It’s in the dean’s hands now,” he said. “It’s sad that we had to take the matter out of the hands of the students … and put democracy in the hands of one person.”

Freeman said his decision would be made “within 10 days at the longest” and would not take in new evidence or conduct another trial.  

According to the ERC, Cocco’s campaign violated campaign rules by using former Gov. Charlie Crist as a celebrity on campaign materials, using Activity and Service fees to purchase business cards, passively campaigning at a polling station and not including a link to the SG voting website on the campaign website. 

Freeman said he ruled on a similar appeal at the end of last semester, when the ERC appealed a previous ruling by the Supreme Court that found the rules commission does not have the authority to hold hearings regarding grievances.

Freeman agreed with the court at the time, saying it is “clear and unambiguous” that the Supreme Court is the only arbiter of conflicts in student elections, and that the ERC’s only authority is to accept or assess grievances and violations to campaigns – not to hold hearings.

But a legal opinion from the SG Attorney General, who defended the ERC during the Supreme court hearing last week, was released Tuesday and stated while students can appeal a Supreme Court decision to the Dean, SG statutes limit that right only to external controversies, preventing internal SG cases from being appealed. 

Last year, however, on the USF St. Pete campus, a similar situation arose and the Dean for Students at the St. Pete campus was the ultimate arbiter who determined the outcome of the elections.  

“It’s important to remain positive and keep up the good vibes,” Cocco said.

Arnold, who earned 39 percent of the 4,928 votes in the general election and 48 percent of the 3,651 votes in the runoff, said she is also eagerly awaiting the outcome of the Dean’s decision that could potentially make her president-elect once again. 

“I respect the court’s decision,” she said. “But obviously I would be ecstatic if the dean makes a different decision. I would respect any decision that is made. … I think everyone is just excited to see who the next student body president will be.”