By a vote of 26-1, Julia Cunningham and Jillian Wilson were officially elected and sworn in as student body president and vice president in a selection of last resort Tuesday evening by the Student Government (SG) Senate.
After an hour of public forum comments and an hour and a half of discussions starting at 6 p.m. on Microsoft Teams, the Senate voted overwhelmingly for the Cunningham-Wilson ticket over the Jaida Abbas and Jennifer Kelly campaign. Both Cunningham and Wilson were sworn in immediately after the vote, so the transition process will be underway by the beginning of the next term May 10.
The Senate’s selection of last resort followed the April 9 trial of the Abbas-Kelly ticket, where the SG Supreme Court found the ticket guilty of a major violation for the social media giveaway of a $25 gift card for students who tagged a friend, shared the post and followed the social media account.
Abbas and Kelly were statutorily disqualified from the election, as written is statute 706.5.10.1.
The Abbas-Kelly ticket, which received approximately 53 percent of the vote in last month’s general election, filed an appeal April 22 with Dean of Students Danielle McDonald, who is typically given five days to make a decision on an appeal. However, due to the rushed timeline and need for transfer of power, she was only given two.
“The Elections Rules Commission and Senate leadership for consistency and in their interpretation of the deadline before selection of last resort would be enacted said that the SG president and vice president had to be certified and sworn in by Friday 5 p.m.,” she said. “That gave me less than two days to render a decision and I was not able to do that in that time frame.”
A president and vice president needed to have been sworn in 10 days prior to spring commencement, which will begin May 7, based on university policy. Therefore, the policy overrides the appeals process in the SG statutes, according to McDonald.
Not having a sworn-in president and vice president automatically initiated a selection of last resort, and because there was no decision regarding the appeal made before Tuesday, both the Cunningham-Wilson ticket and the Abbas-Kelly ticket were eligible to be elected by the Senate.
“The statutes currently say that this selection of last resort would be between the two certified campaign tickets despite any pending litigation,” McDonald said. “Our Board of Governors in their regulations on student conduct have said no sanctions for student conduct take place until the process has been completed through appeal.
“[The Board of Governors’ regulation] is the basis of defining what pending litigation, still, is because the appeal decision had not been rendered. No final decision was made in terms of disqualifying any tickets and so the campaign tickets that were certified as campaign tickets are then what [the Senate is] deciding on.”
Prior to voting, senators heard supporters of both tickets in an open forum to express their opinions on the outcome of the selection of last resort. After the open forum ended and the Senate went through a few unrelated agenda items, both tickets were asked to leave the room while the Senate engaged in an hour-and-a-half discussion.
While several senators expressed they were unsure of which ticket to vote for, some provided statements of support right away. Senators Junayed Jahangir and Madysen Humphries spoke up in support of the Cunningham-Wilson ticket. Jahangir cited the majority opinion of the SG Supreme Court as justification for his stance.
“[Statute] 706. 184.108.40.206 says using money or favors to persuade a person [or] group to act in a certain way not including purchases of goods or sponsorship is a violation,” he said.
“That means if we’re to compare this with a race, [and] a person was technically using steroids to win the race, … if he wins the race and it’s proven that steroids were being used, [deciding whether or not] to take that person out is pretty simple to me.”
Later in the discussion, Jahangir said Abbas reached out to him personally to ask for his vote, something the senators were informed about in a memorandum from Senate President Alliyah Edwards. Sen. Tiffany Massay said she had been reached out to as well.
“I feel obligated to share it because [Massay] had the courage. I was also reached out to this morning by Jaida Abbas and I’ve made it amply clear that she’s supported me in my times of peril and I owe her for that debt … but that cannot be repaid by choosing her side in this particular discussion,” Jahangir said.
“I took an oath to the students to follow the [SG] Constitution and the statutes and I have to fulfill that obligation.”
Despite the majority of the senators saying they were voting for the Cunningham-Wilson ticket, two were in support of the Abbas-Kelly ticket — Eran Fruehauf and Nicole Delgado-Velez — mostly because they said the violation was not indicative of the candidates’ characters.
“I believe the Abbas and Kelly campaign, while they did commit a major violation, in my opinion, they weren’t doing it out of malice or trying to get an edge on their opponent, it seemed like a mistake to me, but I think we can take my opinion with a grain of salt because I’m a part of the campaign ticket,” Fruehauf said.
He ultimately ended up abstaining from the vote due to a conflict of interest, because he served as the St. Pete campus coordinator for Abbas and Kelly’s campaign.
The majority of the discussion revolved around debates of Abbas and Kelly’s integrity. A few senators, such as Keyshawn Davis, did not feel the ticket demonstrated honesty and trustworthiness in its campaign.
“It’s conjecture that the intent [behind the gift card] was not out of malice, considering that the means undermine the integrity of a fair race,” Davis said. “I want you to understand that mistakes happen every day but they also carry implications. Personally, I would not feel comfortable seeing someone who violates the rules and doesn’t play fair … in office, so the [Cunningham-Wilson] ticket definitely has my vote.”
Kelly was disappointed in the decision of the Senate and it was not a good reflection of her and Abbas’ characters or campaign.
“Democracy lost tonight. I believe we ran a credible campaign that was full of integrity and ethics. The students saw this and voted us in a majority. It is disheartening, to say the least, that some SG members put their personal motives above what their constituents, that voted them in to represent them, wanted,” she said.
“I am saddened to leave our student body under leadership that they did not choose. I know, despite the false rumors being accused of us, that Jaida and I worked within Student Government with nothing but positive intentions in representing the voices of all students. It is unfortunate that many people involved in the process tonight did not do the same.”
After the discussion, the tickets were called back into the meeting and the voting process began. Of the 31 votes cast, 26 were for Cunningham and Wilson, one was for Abbas and Kelly and the remaining four were abstentions. Cunningham and Wilson, being senators, abstained due to conflict of interest, along with Fruehauf. The final abstention was Edwards as Senate president.
Once the results were announced, Chief Justice Shannon Harner swore in the newly elected president and vice president.
“I am so incredibly honored and humbled for the opportunity to serve our wonderful student body. I understand that this was a tumultuous election but my dedication to our university has not wavered. I’m looking forward to the upcoming term and all the amazing things that are to come,” Cunningham said.
Wilson expressed similar sentiments to Cunningham after the pair was sworn in. She said she is excited to get started on building their team and working on their initiatives.
“My first initial reaction was shock, but now I have moved into feeling honored and overwhelmingly grateful. I plan to represent the student body to the best of my ability as student body vice president and I know Julia and I will lead with honesty, integrity and we will always put the voices of students first,” she said. “As the second consolidated term begins, we want to foster campus communities where all students can feel safe, heard and celebrated.”
Now that Cunningham and Wilson have been sworn into office, the transition of power from current Student Body President and Vice President Claire Mitchell and Gustavo Spangher will begin. Cunningham and Wilson will officially start leading the executive branch of the second consolidated term May 10.