We are appealing the decision of the Student-Wide Judiciary to nullify the 2010 Graduate Student Association executive board election on the grounds that the process ignored our concerns, sets a dangerous precedent, and does not respect the procedure of democratic self-governance. We believe that the SWJ failed to perform a complete and comprehensive investigation of the issues, and has effectively initiated a recall process without regard to the opinions and input of the constituent graduate student body. Though the Election Committee, through voluntary and accidental circumstances, created an environment that made running our respective campaigns more difficult, the SWJ’s ruling has violated any semblance of self-governance and fairness. At the very least, the EC made an effort toward transparency and timeliness, and did its best to include both parties and the electorate in its proceedings.

Our first major complaint is that the SWJ did not even attempt to contact us with regards to the investigation. Michael Egnoto, chair of the first Election Committee, told us that we would be involved in this process, and we understand he was earnest in his belief that the SWJ would include us. We believe this is a reasonable expectation. We have complaints about the way the election was run, too. We have evidence that the problems with the election harmed our campaign as much if not more than the opposing party’s; the fact that the SWJ has not considered our experiences during the campaign is not only deeply troubling, it is contradictory to the SWJ Rules of Procedure.

Secondly, we are concerned that Chief Justice Samuel Vulcano’s decision represents a set of dangerous precedents that threaten the legitimacy of the GSA and the graduate students’ right to self-governance. The actions of the SWJ have been opaque and vague in this process, and they have removed important democratic steps. Chief Justice Vulcano’s mandate jeopardizes GSA funds without consulting the graduate student body, essentially using student fees without consulting the individuals who have paid them. This acts directly against the principles upon which the GSA was established, ignores clear rules stated in the GSA Election Code, and threatens democracy and the due process of law.

In addition, the complainants in this case did not bring their issues with this process forward within twenty-four hours of the contested act, as per section 9.2 of the GSA Election Code. All the alleged infractions listed in the complaint took place well before the complaint was filed, and were duly dealt with by the EC, with the results accepted by both parties. A complaint with the election itself must pertain to actual fraud or voter disenfranchisement: if none is alleged, the election results must stand. The ruling reads as a memo and is further obfuscated by the fact that it appears on GSA letterhead, making the body and authority behind the ruling ambiguous.

It is an extremely grave matter to nullify the results of an election, especially when it means disenfranchising voters who will not be able to vote in the fall, and leaving a key part of the duties of the newly elected officers — for instance, the hiring of the MDRF director and the GSA webmaster — in the hands of unelected officers, at the same time denying this responsibility to those actually elected. Unless the results of the election were deemed fraudulent, or that there was actual voter disenfranchisement, the results must be allowed to stand. Otherwise, Chief Justice Vulcano is simply basing his ruling on infractions and allegations of “bias” that were already dealt with by the EC, or for which the window of opportunity for complaint had passed.

Moreover, the GSA Election Code provides for the event of a tie, which does not even call for the election to be re-run. Rather, the tie would be broken by a vote of the GSA Senate, as per section 5.2.3. However, the results of the present election have been clearly in our favor. A close victory remains a victory — to throw out the results of an election on these grounds is wholly absurd. If a candidate wins by a single vote, that candidate is still the victor.

On top of this, the rationale for maintaining the exact same candidates is to “ensure fairness for all candidates,” but it seems extraordinarily unfair to change the voting electorate. Outgoing students will be disenfranchised, and incoming students represent a completely new set of voters. These are not things that Chief Justice Vulcano provided for in his memo, and issues that should be of grave concern to the GSA.

Finally, it appears, upon review, that the SWJ has proceeded to recall proceedings without a formal petition process. Recall proceedings, as described in the SWJ’s Rules of Procedure, require a petition on the part of the complainants. However, the legal action that has been taken against the GSA did not include a petition, nor formal charges of misconduct. While we realize that the opposing party’s grievances were against the EC, it is important to note that we and all graduate students of the GSA are party to this electoral process and are deeply affected by its outcome. We have been put in the position of defending the GSA.

The proceedings have advanced to something which resembles the Recall Proceedings outlined in Section 28 of the Student-Wide Judiciary Rules of Procedure without going through the Supreme Student Court SWJ Arbitration Panel proceedings outlined in Section 27. The resemblance is not acute, however, because there was no process of gathering petition signatures regarding what is effectively a recall.  This is very important as the petitioning process maintains the power of the electorate. [While these Recall Proceedings are noted in the SWJ Rules of Procedure as applicable to the Student Association, we could not find any similar rules of procedure for the GSA, and are taking these as a guiding example of a fair procedure.]

In the communications sent to us via GSA President Nicole Jowsey, Chief Justice Vulcano is the only individual who has claimed responsibility for this decision. In the letter signed by Chief Justice Vulcano, there is no indication that there was an arbitration panel in place that made this decision as a group. In fact, Vulcano’s language implies that he was the sole decisionmaker in this case. We question his right to speak for the SWJ without an arbitration panel and a publically accountable meeting.  The only information we have recieved is the pdf from Chief Justice Vulcano, resembling a memo with no dates, times, or information about process and procedure, sent from President Jowsey.

Part of the issue underlying Chief Justice Vulcano’s ruling is that it does not seem to be based on factual information, as none was provided, and uses fallacious reasoning to invalidate the results of the election. The language he uses is that “more likely than not” errors occurred that “had an unfair impact on the candidates,” which means that the unfair advantage only had a likely unfair impact on our campaigns. It is the SWJ’s responsibility, as the party charged with investigating this matter, to provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that this impact occurred. Moreover, the memo does not elaborate on what the impact was, and on whom.

There has been too much ambiguity, vagueness, and undemocratic intervention for us to stay silent on this matter. The SWJ has excluded us and the GSA electorate from a process which is not clearly defined, and has effectively recalled us as officers-elect, without going through clear and transparent formal procedures. These events threaten the integrity of the GSA as a governing organization of graduate students, by graduate students, as well as the integrity of the SWJ, as a comprehensive investigation was not performed. We would like clarity about the process that occurred, not just for ourselves but for all graduate students. We would also like the SWJ to consider that its decision to nullify this election has created more problems in similar areas to those it was attempting to resolve.

We call for the election results to stand and this ruling to be overturned. In the interest of preserving the democratic process, the legitimacy of the GSA, and the voting rights of those who have been disenfranchised, we expect these issues to be addressed in a timely manner. We do not accept the idea that interim officers are a legitimate solution to this problem. We are seeking outside counsel in this matter.

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