Accusations fly concerning USG election results
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 01:03
Student Body President Stephen Petkis vetoed a bill passed by the Undergraduate Student Government last night that would overturn the USG Judiciary’s decision to disqualify Shiv Gandhi from the race for student body president.
The USG Judiciary ruled unanimously on Tuesday night that Shiv Gandhi, the current USG Senate speaker, violated campaign rules that prohibit “aggressive campaigning,” setting up campaign tables without authorization and campaigning at events funded by USG after Gandhi’s opponent. Current USG Comptroller Edward Courchaine, filed a complaint. Gandhi and his running mate, Senator Mark Sargent, appealed the decision and delayed further action until Thursday. As Gandhi’s only opponent, Courchaine would win the presidency by default if Gandhi were disqualified.
At Wednesday’s Senate meeting, Senator Hailey Manfredi, a member of Gandhi’s campaign team, proposed a bill that would void the judiciary’s decision and require the Chief Justice, who is the only USG member who knows the confidential election results, to announce the winner of the campus wide vote.
The legislation would also give the Senate the power to “suspend an appeals process and entrust Senate to uphold or overrule a decision made by the Judiciary” if they believe the justices did not act fairly or impartially. Manfredi said she drafted the legislation in response to a “clear violation of partiality” exhibited by the Judiciary branch at the hearing on Tuesday.
Senator Kevin Alvarez, another member of Gandhi’s campaign, said he witnessed an “inappropriate” discussion between Chief Justice Shawn Pilares and Senator Kailee Haimes, who served as a witness in the hearing, behind close doors.
Haimes insisted she only entered the room where Pilares was in order to get an umbrella.
“I did not talk about anything that had to do with the campaign,” Haimes said during the debate over the legislation. “I did not sway his opinion. Swear to God.”
Haimes testified that a member of Gandhi’s campaign, Senator Neel Rana, violated campaign rules that require candidates to stay within an arm’s length of their campaign table and not “call out to passers-by” while Rana worked a table for the Gandhi campaign in the Student Union. The justices held Gandhi accountable for the violation.
Manfredi argued the Judiciary acted unethically when one of the justices, Connor Bergen, made his Facebook profile picture a campaign poster for Courchaine and his running mate, Kara Googins. Manfredi and fellow Gandhi-supporters in the Senate said because Bergen did not recuse himself until after the hearings were over, the ruling should be void.
Bergen, however, was not present at the meeting. Pilares insisted Bergen had no hand in the hearing process and was not present at Tuesday’s hearing.
“It was clear [Bergen] never violated the policies,” Pilares said. “I even told him before the hearing process began he had to recues himself because of his affiliation with the campaign.”
Though Bergen was not present, he did not issue a formal recusal until after the initial hearing process.
In remarks at the close of the meeting, Pilares said he thought the Senators who voted “yes” and were involved in Gandhi’s campaign were being hypocritical.
“Why is it that the Judiciary branch is accused of a conflict of interest, and yet the Senators who proposed this legislation were members of the presidential campaign?” Pilares asked.
After three hours of debate, Senator Elena Innes called for a vote and asked that Senators who were involved with either presidential campaign to abstain from the vote. The legislation passed in a 9-2 vote.
Senators Manfredi and Alvarez both voted “yes.”
“I didn’t abstain from the vote because I truly felt the conversation that happened behind closed doors was a violation of the due process of the case. It wasn’t about whether or not Shiv [Gandhi] was elected,” Alvarez said. “I don’t think [the judiciaries] were corrupt, but their actions were a mistake.”
Shortly after the vote was tallied, Petkis vetoed the legislation.
“The wording [in the USG Constitution] clearly grants the Judiciary […] exclusive responsibility to resolve violations of the Constitution,” Petkis wrote in his veto statement. “It is clear that [the act] is in direct violation of the Constitution.”
The bill may return to the senate, and senators can override the veto with a 3/5-majority vote.
The judiciary still plans to hold the appeal hearing on Thursday night, which will take place in the Student Organization Center conference room in the Student Union at 8 p.m.
According to Bergen, until the case is settled, all of the USG election results will be withheld.