Editor’s Note: Jack Bartholet is one of the editors-in-chief of The News-Letter. He was not involved in the reporting, writing or editing of this article.
This article, previously under the headline “CSE disqualifies Zappone in VP race; Bartholet declared winner,” has been updated to reflect the decision made by the SGA Judiciary on April 8.
In a summary judgment issued Wednesday evening, the Judiciary Board dismissed Freshman Class Senator Sarah Zappone’s appeal of the Committee on Student Elections’s (CSE) decision to disqualify her as a vice-presidential candidate for the Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Board.
Junior Jack Bartholet will serve as Executive Vice President of the SGA for the 2015-2016 school year.
This judgment closed the final avenue of appeal for all matter relating to the CSE decision, which was prompted by a complaint brought by Bartholet.
A summary judgment is an emergency action invoked when, upon unanimous consent of the justices, the Judiciary Board decides that a case should be ruled on without hearing oral arguments.
Zappone could not be reached for comment by press deadline for this article. Bartholet commented after the Judiciary reached its decision.
“Issuing a summary judgment here was certainly in the interest of justice, as the speedy resolution of the contested Executive Board election is beneficial to all and to begin the healing process that our community needs to now undergo,” Bartholet said.
The Judiciary Board, in agreement with the CSE, ruled that Zappone’s post to the secret Facebook group of the Phi Mu sorority constituted a campaign violation because it was in a secret group and did not address individuals by name, violating Article IV.2.f.vi and Article IV.2.f.viii of the CSE bylaws.
In her appeal, Zappone argued that the CSE’s decision was a misinterpretation of CSE bylaw IV.2.f. In their summary judgment, the Judiciary said that candidates are responsible for understanding and complying with the campaign rules and that a lack of malicious intent does not justify overruling the CSE’s decision.
Zappone also wrote that the other three members of her ticket, President-Elect Jason Plush, Secretary-Elect John Stanton and Treasurer-Elect Matthew Bee, should have been disqualified alongside her, and therefore, there should be a re-vote for all positions.
The Judiciary did not feel that Zappone’s disqualification automatically warranted the disqualification of the rest of her ticket.
Additionally, Zappone filed a complaint against Bartholet with the CSE. It was ruled invalid because it was filed after the deadline specified by CSE bylaw IV.4.b., which is 7:00 a.m. on the Monday after the voting period ends. The Judiciary said that, regardless, this complaint would be irrelevant to the question of Zappone’s violations.
“A lot of people have vilified me for filing this complaint in the first place, and I completely understand that,” Bartholet said. “However, it’s important to note that Sarah has also filed a complaint against me. The reason that I originally filed the complaint had very little to do with the Facebook post and more to do with many negative things that were coming from people she had asked to help spread her message, negative things that were being said about me. While I expected the Judiciary to address those concerns, they did not address those in their decision.”
Zappone received the majority of votes with 340 to Bartholet’s 93. On Monday, the CSE announced that Zappone had been disqualified. In a statement released on Tuesday, the CSE explained that Zappone had violated the two sections of the CSE bylaws by posting in the Facebook group. Bartholet was declared the winner pending the appeal filed by Zappone’s ticket.
The other members of her ticket ran uncontested. Plush was elected Executive President with 364 votes, Stanton was elected Executive Secretary with 351 votes and Bee was elected Executive Treasurer with 351 votes. Including abstentions and write-ins, only 458 total votes were cast, representing 8.6 percent of the undergraduate student body.
Bartholet cited in his original nine-page complaint that Zappone broke three bylaws. Bartholet alleged that Zappone violated Article IV.2.f.iii, which states, “No candidate shall speak negatively against another candidate.” The CSE did not find sufficient evidence that Zappone violated this rule.
The CSE report stated that Zappone violated Articles IV.2.f.vi and IV.2.f.viii when she posted in the secret Facebook group asking for support in her campaign. The CSE found these violations to be sufficient grounds for disqualification.
Zappone’s post did not specifically advocate for votes, but she did link the ticket’s page and ask for “support liking and sharing on social media.”
Plush recognized that Zappone did break these rules, but he thought the charge was minor enough that it did not warrant a disqualification.
“I believe that this was very miniscule compared to what I’ve heard of people getting disqualified for in the past. I honestly don’t think this affected the outcome of the election,” Plush said. “In the post, she didn’t advocate for our ticket specifically; she didn’t tell people to vote for us. She just gave a link to the Facebook page we created and told people that we were running for Exec.”
In the CSE report, CSE Chair John Corbett outlined the process behind Bartholet’s complaint and behind the decision to disqualify Zappone.
“Because the post received significant attention and remained visible during most of campaigning and voting period, the CSE judged that the possibility that it had impacted voting patterns could not be ruled out,” Corbett wrote.
The CSE report also addressed the low voter turnout in this year’s Executive Board election. In the last six years, Executive Board election turnout ranged from 1,240 to 2,778 students.
“The CSE would like to note that no email was sent out to the undergraduate student body this year notifying them of the beginning of the voting period, as has been done in previous elections, and we recognize that many students were unaware of the election,” Corbett wrote. “Due to this and other factors unique to this election (such as the fact that three out of the four Executive Board positions were uncontested) voter turnout was remarkably weak.”
Following the CSE’s decision, Zappone’s supporters started an online petition to demand her reinstatement as winner of the election. Four hundred and seventy signatures were collected before the petition was closed.
Bonsu commented on the student body’s overall lack of awareness of the election and encouraged all parties to remain respectful when discussing the election results.
“Exec. elections are always really heated, and this is not the first time that infractions have been made. I ran for Vice President, and we filed something similar to what Jack filed. It’s common,” she said. “I think the biggest deal with this is that we did not have a big voter turnout and many of the positions were uncontested.”
Bonsu also discussed the negative reaction to the election results.
“I don’t feel like we’re engaging in the right conversations,” Bonsu said. “I feel like it is becoming really hurtful and damaging to people, and the future of SGA is at stake if people are reacting this way... It’s cyberbullying.”
In response to the CSE’s decision, Plush said that his ticket’s goals remained unchanged, regardless of whether Zappone would serve alongside them next year.
“In terms of the cohesion of our group moving forward, Matt, John and I are all excited moving forward, and we think we will have a positive impact and change on this campus next year,” Plush said. “Sarah brings a year of experience to the table that Jack doesn’t necessarily have. I know he’s served in leadership roles in other aspects of the school, but the dynamic will be a little different.”
Freshman Melissa Paton identified what she thought was the overarching problem with the low voter turnout.
“Our student population is really demoralized with the current administration because it doesn’t make the right decisions or policies. There is a lack of trust between students and the administration, and nobody wants to be associated with the face of the administration, so that’s why nobody is running,” Paton said.
Freshman John Hughes also commented on the low voter turnout.
“I largely think that the lack of turnout was pretty much the SGA’s fault, as was the lack of candidates,” Hughes said. “The communication of when to run or when to vote was very scant. The fault lies on the SGA and not the student body.”
Bartholet agreed that this was not an ideal situation.
“This is never the way that I would have wanted to win,” Bartholet said.