Dean of Students disqualifies Solano and Malanga’s SG presidential win

Dean of Students Danielle McDonald released her decision on Friday calling for Cesar Esmeraldi and Elizabeth Volmy to be sworn in as student body president and vice president. ORACLE PHOTO/JULIA SAAD

In an appellate decision released on Friday, Dean of Students Danielle McDonald said she would uphold the Student Government (SG) Supreme Court decision to disqualify the Sebastian Solano and Jessica Malanga ticket and called for the certification of Cesar Emeraldi and Elizabeth Volmy as SG president and vice president.

The appellate decision came after an April 29 ruling by the SG Supreme Court in which it found Solano and Malanga – at the time president and vice president elect – had set up and operated an unauthorized polling station on Feb. 28 and thus violated SG statute 706. After the release of the SG decision, the Dean of Students Office received an appeal submitted by Malanga on April 30.

Malanga’s letter of appeal was based on the vagueness doctrine – a declaration that a law or statute is invalid because it is not sufficiently clear –  and allegations of lack of clarity in external resources, common campaign activities and due process violations.  

Defendants in the case argued that the statute defining what an authorized polling station is was vague. They also claimed the tabling set up by the Malanga and Solano ticket was a common campaign activity. However, McDonald found that definitions of statutes “will never be able to cover every instance and definition” and applauded the court for their request to further clarify the statute, according to the decision.

Finding that a USF student should be able to understand the statute and does have enough resources to be aware of the consequences of violating it, McDonald said the vagueness doctrine did not apply. 

The appealing party also argued there was an unfair advantage in access to the Rules of Evidence and that the Supreme Court violated these rules by not swearing in any witnesses. McDonald only recognized the lack of swearing in of witnesses as a procedural error as evidence was presented that the Rules of Evidence were sent to all parties on the same day.

Though she said she found due process errors, McDonald said these errors would not have changed the outcome of the case and therefore upheld the Supreme Court’s decision. She also argued the severity of the violations were sufficient to potentially influence the outcome of the election – which she characterized as very close.

Along with her decision, McDonald also offered recommendations to SG and argued that immediate changes need to be made to statutes, rules of procedures and “possibly the constitution regarding elections and court proceedings,” according to the decision.

Following the release of the appellate decision, the case is now considered closed and the Election Rules Commission may certify the SG elections as soon as possible, according to Assistant Director of SG Jennifer Bielen. 

McDonald said there should be limitations on what constitutes a basis for appeal. She said they should be limited specifically to procedural or process errors in hearings, new information that was not available at the time of a hearing and outcomes of court decisions which are disproportionate to the violation. 

Representation in hearings is also something which should be reconsidered, according to McDonald. Under current SG statutes, students can choose another student to represent them, but McDonald said she believes neither party needs representation by a counselor and should instead represent themselves. Advisors could be offered but their role should only be “advisory in nature,” according to McDonald. 

The burden of proof required by SG statues – “more likely than not” – should also be reconsidered as there are no trained investigators bringing forth evidence, according to McDonald.

McDonald found that the SG Rules of Evidence must be provided at the same time a hearing is announced so that all parties may have enough time to review the document. She also said these rules have to be referenced in Title 5 so the public is also aware of the documents.