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The Statesman

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The Statesman


    Statement from the USG Elections Board Chair

    March 17th, 2007

    To the Undergraduate Student Body:

    On March 16th, the Elections Board of the Undergraduate Student Government met to deliberate on allegations against two candidates standing election for President, Vice President of Academic Affairs Chinelo Onochie and President Romual Jean-Baptiste, for violating Article II, Section 2.C. of the USG Constitution, Article VIII, Section 3.C. of the Elections Board Bylaws and the USG Elections Board Candidate Agreement Form. While the Board was convening, President Jean-Baptiste concurrently issued a letter withdrawing his candidacy, which was brought to the Board’s attention after the meeting.

    At the meeting itself, the Board unanimously determined that both candidates had indeed violated the aforementioned sections of the Constitution and the Elections Board Bylaws. Following the precedent established in Romano, Borodkin, and Shapiro v. Darguin (2006, Case No. 0052006), the Board also unanimously decided to invalidate and disqualify Chinelo Onochie and Romual Jean-Baptiste from the spring 2007 election. It is further recommended by the Board that both officers be brought to the USG Judiciary for further disciplinary action if deemed necessary by the Department of Justice in accordance with Article VIII, Section 4 of the Bylaws and Article I, Section 5 of The Ensurance [sic] of Justice and Rights Act, and/or the Senate in accordance with Article VIII, Section 1 of the USG Constitution.

    This decision followed a March 15th emergency Elections Board meeting in which both candidates Onochie and Jean-Baptiste were brought in to answer questions from the Board about the allegations. No decision was reached at this meeting. However, the Board began its deliberations and consulted with the Elections Board Advisor, Robert Romano, before adjourning. After the March 15th meeting, the third candidate for President, Senator Joe Antonelli spoke with myself over the phone and stated his position that both candidates had committed violations.

    The controversy involved violations which occurred on March 4th and March 5th through a USG marketing campaign for the USG-funded and sponsored event, “The Pursuit of Excellence.” This event, which took place on March 7th in the SAC Auditorium, featured retired NY Giants running back, Tiki Barber, who came to speak on leadership, determination, and teamwork. This event was administered by Vice President of Academic Affairs Onochie, who had made the request for funds from the Senate Budget Committee which was granted by the Senate. Onochie led the USG’s marketing efforts on the website by creating a separate page to advertise the event.

    On March 4th, according to the evidence which was presented to the Board, President Jean-Baptiste added a campaign photo of himself to this event which read, “RE-ELECT ROMUAL JEAN-BAPTISTE as your USG PRESIDENT!” Jean-Baptiste denied adding the photo at the March 15th meeting. However, the log of his account’s activities shows that the campaign photo was added to the event from his account. According to Onochie, she immediately deleted the photo, which can no longer be seen on the group.

    On March 5th, at 3:21 am, Onochie sent a campaign message to all members (77 according to the group’s membership) who had indicated they would be attending the event from the USG marketing page which read in part, “VOTE CHINELO ONOCHIE FOR PRESIDENT IF YOU AGREE WITH THE FOLLOWING?” Onochie admitted to sending the message from the marketing page she administered, and the print-out of the message she sent verifies that it was sent from her account.

    In the days that followed, President Jean-Baptiste ordered an investigation by the District Advocate, Alex Ovtcharenko, into the message that Onochie had sent for potential violations of legitimate electoral procedures established under USG law. Ovtcharenko did not believe that internet postings were necessarily governed by our laws, but that if the President ordered him to investigate that he was bound by Article I, Section 6 of The Ensurance [sic] of Justice and Rights Act to do so. In the course of this investigation, Onochie turned over the evidence to the District Advocate that demonstrated that the President had committed the very same violation he was alleging that the Vice President of Academic Affairs had committed. Also, upon being questioned separately by both the District Advocate and the Elections Board Advisor about this evidence, the President denied that he had posted any campaign photo on the marketing page for the Tiki Barber event. Subsequently, the President called off the investigation, and the District Advocate, who was not convinced there was a violation by either candidate in the first place, also put his investigation on hold.

    After careful investigation and deliberations, the Board has determined that these actions do indeed constitute violations of the Constitution, the Elections Board Bylaws, and the USG Elections Board Candidate Agreement Form.

    Article II, Section 2.C. of the Constitution states that, “[T]he organization [Undergraduate Student Government] shall not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” By utilizing a marketing campaign for a USG-funded and sponsored event as a political platform, whether or not the candidates were aware that doing so was a violation, Onochie and Jean-Baptiste have violated one of the most important clauses in our Constitution. To quote petitioners Robert Romano, Alexsandra Borodkin, and Nathan Shapiro from their 2006 brief against then Executive Vice President, Samuel Darguin, “The USG, in its official capacity, must remain neutral in terms of its own political campaigns for public office? That is an activity for outside of governmental offices and duties.” Using the USG’s marketing efforts for an event to gain an edge in the campaign would be no different than if the candidates had stood up on stage during the event with hundreds of students present stating their candidacies.

    In the case against Darguin, the Supreme Court did not convene in time in order for him to be disqualified. However, the Court determined firstly that Article II, Section 2.C. does indeed apply to USG elections and that Darguin had indeed violated Article II, Section 2.C. of the Constitution, and that he should have been disqualified. Because of the time-sensitive nature involved since the elections begin on March 19th, the Board determined that there would not be sufficient time to convene the Supreme Court to consider the validity of these violations. And, according to Article XII, Section 3 of the Elections Board Bylaws, “No validated candidate who wins Election to office shall be denied the right to take office in a timely manner in accordance with the prescribed dates in the USG Constitution.” Therefore, it was incumbent upon the Elections Board to invalidate these candidacies before the elections occurred considering the seriousness of the violations and the inability of the courts or the Elections Board to disqualify a candidate after he or she wins an election. To quote the unanimous decision of the Court, “We recommend that in the future, any person caught doing such [violating Article II, Section 2.C. of the Constitution] should be disqualified from the election.”

    Both candidates also violated Article VIII, Section 3.C. of the Elections Board Bylaws, which state, “The Elections Board must keep one (1) copy or sample of all official candidate and referendum group campaign materials.” The Elections Board was never notified about these campaign efforts until they were brought to the Board’s attention in the course of our investigation. And, according to both candidates, the campaign materials which were sent off of or placed onto the marketing page for the Tiki Barber event were not given to the Elections

    Both candidates also violated the Candidate Agreement Form, which states, “I, ____________, hereby know and understand the rules that have been stated on this form, in the Elections Board Bylaws, and the Constitution of the Undergraduate Student Government including being a member of the Undergraduate Student Government, and agree to have my platform and school ID photo posted on the ballot during elections.” While the Vice President of Academic Affairs has stated that she was not aware that sending a message off of a USG marketing campaign would violate the Constitution, ignorance of the law is no excuse when every candidate is required to sign the candidate agreement form. Each candidate is responsible to be familiar with elections procedures when standing for election, and candidates that violate their agreement with the USG do so to their own detriment.

    The Board is aware of the implications of invalidating two of the three candidates standing election for the Presidency. However, it is impossible for the Board to even attempt to quantify what the potential benefit to both candidates could have conceivably been for their illegal electioneering. Last year, the presidential election was only determined by 9 votes. If 5 voters (out of 2,569 who had cast their votes) had switched their votes, Samuel Darguin, who according to the Supreme Court should have been disqualified for fundraising out of the USG suite and booking a table in the USG’s name for use of electioneering for his party coalition, SUCCESS, would have been elected, and there would have been nothing either the Elections Board or the Supreme Court could have done to have prevented him from taking office.

    Therefore, the Board has acted swiftly to remove these candidates from the ballot for the sake of the integrity of the elections. Candidates, especially incumbent USG officers, must realize that using USG-sponsored events to market their own political campaigns violates the Constitution since the USG is not allowed to directly participate in, or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office. The precedent established in Romano, Borodkin, and Shapiro v. Darguin allows for only one penalty for violations of Article II, Section 2.C. of the Constitution, and that is for the USG to invalidate and disqualify any candidate that violates the aforementioned section of the Constitution.

    Most Sincerely,

    Max Sequiera

    USG Elections Board Chair

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