USG presidential election decided by disqualification
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 01:03
Edward Courchaine was elected student body president Thursday night when the Undergraduate Student Government Judiciary upheld its decision to disqualify Shiv Gandhi from the race due to campaign violations.
Shortly after the decision was issued, the results of the campus-wide vote were released. Gandhi would have won the presidency by a margin of 340 votes had he not been disqualified.
At Thursday night’s appellate hearing, the USG Judiciary unanimously upheld their decision from 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.
The charges were filed by Gandhi’s sole opponent in the race, current USG Comptroller Edward Courchaine and his running mate, USG Senator Kara Googins. Gandhi and his campaign team admitted guilt to all of the charges, but insisted that none of the acts were done with intent to violate campaign laws.
Gandhi said he was not aware that the Cultural Fashion Show was funded by USG when he attended the event on March 2 and delivered a campaign speech.
“[The president of ASA] granted permission to myself to campaign at her event, an event that both she and the comptroller were fully aware was receiving USG funding, and an event that comptroller conveniently did not put on the website,” Gandhi said in his appeal leader.
Gandhi clarified it is typically the job of the comptroller to post events funded by USG to the calendar, though it has not been updated since 2009.
The ruling on this charge, however, was not enough to disqualify Gandhi and Sargent from the race. The judiciary ruled that combined with two other infractions, which were committed by members of Gandhi’s campaign team, the Gandhi campaign was guilty of “reckless negligence.”
David Rifkin, a USG senator and a campaign surrogate of the Gandhi-Sargent ticket, violated campaign regulations when he campaigned in the Buckley atrium after only receiving oral permission from an “improper authority.”
Rifkin insisted he was not aware he was in violation of campaign laws. Gandhi argued Rifkin was not “an agent of the Gandhi campaign” at the time of the infraction, because neither Gandhi nor Sargent were aware of Rifkin’s actions.
“[Gandhi and Sargent] told [the campaign team] very strategically where they should be. It was the first day I campaigned, and it was just my confusion,” Rifkin said.
The third charge was brought against USG Senator Neel Rana, who violated Student Union rules that prohibit students working tables in the Union from “calling out to passers-by” and from not “remaining within arm’s length of the table.”
Though Rana said he ceased the illegal actions when he was made aware of them by a Student Union employee, the judiciary wrote in the opinion for Thursday night’s decision that “candidates and their campaign surrogates must be held to a higher standard than is called for” by the Student Union’s rules.
Courchaine, a junior biophysics major, will take his post as student body president in the fall. He and his vice president, Googins, campaigned on promises to “work towards financial transparency for tuition dollars, improved faculty relations […] and a unified campus experience.”
Courchaine said he filed the charges against Gandhi when he recognized the campaign violations and wanted the Gandhi campaign to “run a clean show.”
“Nobody wants to go through a process like this,” Courchaine said. “But out of fairness to my campaign team that put in so much work and stayed within the bounds of the regulations, we had to speak up.”
Gandhi and Sargent cited previous USG Judiciary decisions regarding campaign violations in which candidates were “involved in committing violations and the court found them guilty” but the candidates were not disqualified.
Chief Justice Pilares disregarded this information insisting, “This institution does not operate on precedence. It’s not a part of our constitution.”
The decision also makes the bulk of the bill that sparked heated debate at Wednesday night’s USG Senate meeting irrelevant.
“An Act Concerning Undergraduate Student Government Elections,” which was authored by USG Senator Hailey Manfredi, a member of Gandhi’s campaign team, would have overruled the Judiciary’s decision and awarded the presidency to the winner of the campus-wide vote. However, Student Body President Stephen Petkis vetoed the bill after it passed the senate by a 9-2 margin, which delayed the legislation’s enactment.