SGA Election Contention!: Candidate Appeals Postpone Results, Run-Offs



Sarah Finn

The Student Government Association (SGA) election polls closed at midnight on Sunday, April 4 without a decided winner, deviating from the usually smooth election process. In addition to making history, this election has created controversy among students and the complex Student Government regulations. Juniors Liz Brodsky and Mike Newberg gained three more student votes than juniors Max Weiss and Chris Moy in the regular election. However, in an unprecedented turn of events, a deduction of votes due to campaign violations changed the results. The Weiss/Moy ticket appeared to have won with 386 votes versus 380 for the Brodsky/Newberg ticket.

After a lengthy conference call early Monday morning with the Election Commissioners, members of the executive board and both sets of candidates, Brodsky and Newberg decided to appeal to the Elections Committee.

Brodsky and Newberg’s alleged violations included “unsolicited email to Newell residents,” for which they received a 1.25% deduction in votes, “blocking Grapevine advertisements,” for which they also received a 1.25% reduction and “late receipts,” for which they received a 0.25% reduction. These percentage reductions were applied by Elections Commissioners sophomores Mike Hoogland and Matt Hurley, and Parliamentarian sophomore Ryan Nelson, before the polls closed on Sunday, April 4. Hoogland, Hurley and Nelson decided on these deductions based on previous violation deductions during SGA elections. The Weiss/Moy ticket also received deductions for violating Colgate campus policy by using water bottles to hang their signs, and for incomplete receipts, each resulting in a 0.25% reduction in their votes. Juniors Ethan Levitt and Joe LaValle came in with 321 votes and no violation deductions.

“The percent deductions were consistent with past deduction percentages and have nothing to do with the pre-deduction total,” Weiss said.

The appeal process required Brodsky and Newberg to submit their written appeal within 48 hours of the close of the election. The appeal can simply be denied, be accepted entirely with the violation removed or be accepted partially with the violation reduced. If the Elections Committee and Parliamentarian cannot decide what is best, as was the case in this circumstance, the decision falls in the laps of SGA Leadership, including the President, Vice President, appointed Executive positions, the Parliamentarian, the Treasurer, the Speaker and all Chairs of Senate Committees. For this year’s appeals, the SGA Leadership decided to remove Brodsky and Newberg’s third violation of late receipts, as the deduction was assigned in error. As is possible through appeals process, SGA Leadership decided to pass along the first two appeals from Brodsky and Newberg to the Senate, where a larger and more democratic body would decide how to handle the appeals.

“We believe we have shown utmost care to abide by all election laws but are now being unfairly penalized because of actions we are not responsible for,” Brodsky said. “We can honestly say that we do not deserve the percent deductions that we received in this election.”

In their appeal, Brodsky and Newberg also claimed to have been disrespected by public slander, accusations and the declaration of a win by Weiss when the election had not been decided.

“The limit of one campus distribution email allows for each ticket to get their message to the entire study body while preventing spam and keeping the election fair. I could have emailed everyone in College Democrats or Amnesty International and Chris could have emailed all of Delta Upsilon (DU); we followed the rules and did not do this,” Weiss said.

At the Senate meeting last Tuesday evening, the governmental body gathered to discuss the two violations. The first violation claims that Brodsky sent an e-mail to the distribution list of students living in the Newell Apartment complex, with the Resident Advisor (RA) Uday Islam’s permission, as he was one of the Brodsky/Newberg campaign agents. According to the standing bylaws of the SGA Constitution in Article Three, Section Three, Article H. Campaign Material, candidates “are not allowed to send unsolicited electronic messages” and “may send electronic messages only to groups that individuals have joined with the explicit understanding that they may receive this material (e.g. Facebook groups).” This election rule was designed to prevent mass e-mails sent by candidates to large groups of students.

“This to us was the definition of an unsolicited e-mail, this is why the rule exists, we want to keep elections open,” Nelson said at Tuesday’s meeting.

A university rule, which prohibits unsolicited, spam-type emails, is the basis for this article of the election bylaws. One of many issues raised at the Senate meeting is that student group leaders are allowed to send campaign e-mails to their members.

“Sending out e-mails yourself is not okay… you can send it out to a group leader, who can then send information to their group of students,” Nelson said.

Senate members continued to debate whether or not a residential hall is considered a student group, or if Islam as an RA can be considered a leader of a student group.

“That is why these sanctions are there, to change elections if people break the rules,” Nelson said during the Senate decision session.

In the end, the decision was made to uphold this violation, as well as the full deduction.

As for the violation listed as “blocking Grapevine advertisements,” the Senate decided to accept this appeal and strike the violation deduction entirely. This was because there was no proof that Brodsky, Newberg or any of their campaign agents placed their platform sheet in the Grapevine holder in Frank Dining Hall.

“It is very likely that a student that we gave one of our platforms to chose to place our campaign material there on their own accord, and in that case, we should not be penalized for something we did not do. We could have said that Max should be penalized for his stickers if we had thought something like this would ever be an issue,” Brodsky said.

Considering that the SGA Leadership struck the “late receipts” violation from the Brodsky and Newberg ticket, as well as the “blocking Grapevine advertisement” violation, the votes that were added back onto the Brodsky and Newberg ticket equal out to 6, making the final decision by the Senate a tie in student votes with the Weiss and Moy campaign at 386-386.

After the Senate meeting on Tuesday evening, which ended around 10:15 p.m., both the Levitt and LaValle ticket and the Weiss and Moy ticket submitted appeals before the midnight deadline. The Levitt and LaValle appeal generally claimed that both tickets should have more severe penalties, and that if there were to be a runoff, they too should be allowed to participate. The Weiss and Moy appeal attempted to levy additional violations against the Brodsky and Newberg ticket, despite Nelson stating he would accept no complaints of violations after the polls had closed. After consideration, of these appeals, the Leadership has decided to deny these appeals and move forward with a runoff vote between the Brodsky/Newberg ticket and the Weiss/Moy ticket.

“Matt [Muskin] and I both firmly believe a runoff is the best option and have advised [Ryan Nelson] to this effect,” Schneider said.

However, as of Wednesday evening, the Weiss/Moy ticket has requested to suspend the decision for a runoff, challenging the parliamentary ruling on how the appeals process should be approached. According to Nelson, this means that the run-off election will be postponed until Tuesday, April 13, when the Senate has a chance to discuss whose interpretation of the process is correct. If the Senate rules in favor of Nelson’s interpretation, a run-off election between the Weiss/Moy and the Brodsky/Newberg tickets will follow, but if the Senate rules against Nelson, the Senate will then decide on the validity of new violation appeals, which will ultimately determine the outcome of the election.