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Judicial Council explains sanctions

Melissa Flanagan | Thursday, February 17, 2011

The initial election results for student body president and vice president were delayed 24 hours due to an allegation filed against one of the tickets, Michael Thomas, judicial council vice president of elections, said.

Thomas said an allegation was filed Monday morning against the James Ward-Heather Eaton ticket.

“When an allegation is filed, the Election Committee is required to convene in order to address the allegation,” he said.

The allegation involved an e-mail Ward sent to some students Sunday night.

The Election Committee met Monday evening to discuss the claim.

Prior to the meeting, Thomas said he, along with Judicial Council President Marcelo Perez, Chair of Senate Oversight Committee Paige Becker various Student Activities Office (SAO) advisors, made the decision to seal the election results until the allegation was resolved.

Thomas said no student, including himself, knew the election results at any point during the hearing process.

“If at any point the election committee knew the results, there would be a real danger that knowledge of the results would influence the hearing process,” Thomas said.

At the meeting Monday evening, the election committee determined the Ward-Eaton ticket had violated Section 17.1(h) of the student union constitution.

Thomas said this section is known as the “ethics clause,” and states that candidates are expected to behave ethically at all times.

In the Sunday e-mail, Ward called the current student government “lax.”

“The only accomplishments they can tout are the implementation of a textbook rental program that the previous administration put in effect, tumultuous relationships with the South Bend police (and continued arrests), a poorly advertised student discount program and poorly attended pep rallies,” the e-mail stated. “Little or no consideration is given to the students, and current leaders within student government itself are content to rest on their … laurels.”

The committee decided an appropriate sanction for Ward would be the submission of an apology e-mail to Judicial Council by 11:59 p.m. Monday, which would then be distributed to the entire student body. Ward complied and sent the e-mail by the given deadline.

However, the e-mail was not sent to students right away, as Ward and Eaton chose to file an appeal to the allegation.

An appeal must be filed within 24 hours of the allegation, Thomas said. After an appeal is filed, Student Senate must convene within 48 hours to hear the appeal.

Thomas said he once again made the decision to withhold the election results until the appeal process was finished, in order for the Senate to remain unbiased.

After consulting with Becker, Thomas also decided to wait until the appeals process was finished before distributing Ward’s apology e-mail to the student body.

“James satisfied the requirements of the sanction, but I wanted to give the process time to work,” Thomas said. “In case the Senate found it was an unfair sanction, that way we wouldn’t have to backtrack.”

However, the Ward-Eaton ticket dropped the appeal on Tuesday evening and the e-mail was sent to the student body.

With the sanction completed and the appeal dropped, Thomas was able to announce the results of the election Tuesday night.

According to Thomas, all of the rules for campaigning are publicly available in the student union constitution. These detailed, extensive rules are in place in order to maintain an equal playing field between all candidates, he said.

For example, no campaigning is allowed to take place in any meeting or on any agenda of official student union business, such as meetings of Student Senate, Class Council or Hall President’s Council.

“The goal for that is to remove any advantage current student government leaders may have in campaigning,” Thomas said.

Similarly, campaigning in LaFortune Student Center is only allowed on the first floor and in the basement, in order to keep campaigning away from the student government offices on the second and third floors.

Candidates are also not allowed to solicit endorsements or use listservs for campaigning purposes. These two rules are among the most commonly broken, Thomas said, along with the need for candidates to have all of their campaigning materials approved by the election committee.

Thomas said the formation of the rules falls under the jurisdiction of Student Senate.

“Student Senate writes the rules, I as vice president of elections inform the candidates of the rules and the election committee interprets the rules and determines whether or not they were broken,” he said.

Any student can file an allegation, Thomas said, and directions for how to do so are available on the Judicial Council Web site.

Thomas said allegations are usually uncommon, and the reason for so many in this year’s election is probably due to the high number of tickets running for student body president and vice president.

“This created a very competitive environment,” he said. “The candidates wanted to make sure that no one was gaining an unfair advantage.”