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Petition contests General Election outcome

By Yasna Haghdoost     2/20/14 11:46am

A petition has been submitted contesting the results of the Student Association’s general election, according to a letter sent to University Court Chair Evan Austin.

A petition has been submitted contesting the results of the Student Association’s general election, according to a letter sent to University Court Chair Evan Austin.

The petition, spearheaded by Lovett College Senator Christian Neal and Jones College Senator Clinton Willbanks, claims the SA Election Committee committed a series of violations, according to an email sent to UCourt by Neal and Willbanks. 

“It’s a petition to have the entire election redone,” Neal, a senior, said. 

The petition acquired 53 signatures, primarily from Lovett College students, which is more than the 50 signatures necessary to move forward. It outlines four specific alleged violations: the ability of individuals with ineligible NetIDs to cast a ballot, the exclusion of Martel College senior Denis Leahy from the ballot, alleged closed-door meetings of the Election Committee to discuss voting issues and the collaboration between the SA Executive Committee and the SA Election Committee in discussing the vote-counting methods and the security breach that occurred in voting.

According to an email sent to the SA mailing list by SA Secretary Nathan Andrus named “Regarding Allegations of Alumni Voting in General Elections,” anyone with an active NetID, including alumni, was able to vote in the election.

The petition states that alumnus Joey Yang (Lovett ’12) claimed via a Facebook post on Feb. 16 that he had voted in the election. 

“[Yang] went on to indicate that he had looked into the open source code of the election and analyzed the errors in it,” the petition states. “According to Yang, the code did not discriminate between eligible NetIDs ...and ineligible NetIDs .” 

The General Elections are designed to be open solely to undergraduates, Andrus, a Hanszen College junior, said.

SA President Yoonjin Min expressed disappointment in the alumni who voted for attempting to invalidate election results. 

“This is fairly saddening to me, as I would have hoped any issues with the election software be reported to the Election Committee immediately, instead of exploited to invalidate election results,” Min, a Jones College senior, said.

Min said the election utilized secret ballots, which means NetIDs cannot be traced to votes, but that the list of voters could be cross-referenced to identify ineligible voters.

“We are not verifying the ineligible votes, but rather the ineligible voters,” Min said. “This was for us to confirm that non-undergraduates did in fact vote in the election and to see the extent of the problem.”

But in the petition, Neal and Willbanks claim that only if the anonymity of the entire process is at jeopardy would the SA be able to identify how many voters were ineligible. 

“Since there is no way to verify how many ineligible voters participated in the election, we should make no assumptions about how many or how few ineligible voters participated in the election process,” Neal and Willbanks said. “Only by invalidating the anonymity of the voters ballot would they be able to determine if a ballot was submitted by an alumni, graduate student, faculty or staff member who possess NetIDs.”

The second claim in the petition addresses Leahy’s exclusion from the ballot. 

“Leahy met all qualifications as determined by the SA constitution because he was an SA member in good academic and judicial standing who submitted a petition with the appropriate [number] of signatures before the deadline,” the petition reads.

The next violation the petition lists deals with the Election Committee’s alleged closed meetings in which it addressed issues with the NetIDs, discussed the methods for counting ballots for the presidential race and denying Leahy’s candidacy.

According to the petition, SA presidential candidate Min Ji Kim received an email from Gage Wright, who was serving on the Election Committee in place of the parliamentarian, named “About SA Presidential Election,” which outlined the debate in eliminating the votes that put write-ins as first preference.

“There was some debate on the interpretation of the SA constitution as to whether to entirely discount ballots with first preference write -ins, or if we should promote the rankings until a valid candidate … was No. 1,” Wright, a Duncan College senior, wrote in the email. 

The petition claims this email indicates closed meetings that violate the SA constitution. 

“This discussion was a meeting and action of the Elections Committee which was not made public through any communication method, such as e mail, website posts or social media,” Neal and Willbanks said in the petition. 

Min, however, denies the Election Committee having held closed meetings. 

“There were students who are not members of the Election Committee at the meetings before the results were announced,” Min said. “Furthermore, the decisions of the Election Committee and their rationale have been made public.”

Finally, the petition contends that Andrus’ email revealed collaboration between the SA Executive Committee and the SA Election Committee regarding the security of the election. 

“The Election Committee is given sole jurisdiction with regards to all matters of university elections to prevent any conflict of interest, and the actions of the parties involved are in conflict with the roles defined to both committees within the SA constitution,” the petition stated.

But according to Min, the Executive Board was initially notified of the security breach, and communication between the Executive Board and the Election Committee is constitutional. 

In general, the Executive Board’s responsibilities include appointing members to the elections committee and overseeing all parts of the executive branch, which includes the Election Committee,” Min said. “Moreover, there is nothing in our constitution and bylaws that prohibits communication between the SA Executive Board and the SA Election Committee.”

According to Min, resolving the challenge is now the responsibility of UCourt.

“We are currently waiting for UCourt to initiate the official process,” Min said. “At the Student Senate today, the voting members ... unanimously voted to use the new SA constitution to inform the UCourt process moving forward.” 

Austin, a Duncan senior, said the procedures of new SA constitution are being used since the old constitution did not outline any procedure for dealing with this issue. 

“As far as I know, there is no procedure whatsoever to deal with this under the old constitution of the SA, which is why the SA voted to adopt the proposed constitution just for the purpose of dealing with this challenge,” Austin said.

According to Austin, UCourt is conducting an investigation and organizing a public hearing to review this issue. 

“We’re going to be requesting or sending out a call for statements from anyone in the SA who wants to testify on behalf of the SA or on behalf of the complainants,” Austin said. “In the public hearing, there’s also going to be an opportunity for any members of the public to testify.” 

After the public hearing, the court will deliberate in a closed session and issue an abstract explaining its reasoning to be presented at a public SA meeting.

“The judicial power of review is vested in the University Court to issue a binding decision on the validity of this election,” Austin said. 

A date for the public hearing has not been decided, although Austin said a date will be set within the next few days.

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