After MSA presidential election, members call for reform
2015 BEC Chairwoman Emma Henderson responds to criticism from vice chairwoman Bridget Everson.
Jan. 27, 2016
Last semester’s Missouri Students Association election highlighted major problems with the Board of Election Commissioners and MSA’s judicial system, according to students involved with MSA.
BEC Vice Chairwoman Bridget Everson wrote in an email to Senate Speaker Kevin Carr her assessment of the last election. She concluded that BEC Chairwoman Emma Henderson failed to properly interpret the bylaws. Carr provided the email to The Maneater and echoed Everson’s findings.
Henderson said Tuesday and in previous interviews that she stands by the decisions she made during the election and pointed to the support of the MSA justices and adviser Farouk Aregbe. She reiterated that point in a statement released Wednesday after publication.
“It saddens me that my vice chair Bridget Everson has decided to go public with a statement saying she disagreed with decisions that were made,” Henderson said in the statement released Wednesday. “That opposition would have provided useful discourse at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, so to say now that you disagree does not help anything or anyone. I hired her as a trusted advisor because I believed she would speak up and offer her insight and an opinion during the election process, not months after as more evidence is brought to light.”
Controversies surrounding both the Ejaz/Parrie and Gomez/Hanner slates were at the forefront of the election. Near the end of the election, Ejaz/Parrie received a major infraction for polling four hours too early without permission. Gomez/Hanner received their infraction for the use of the app Pocket Points to advertise their campaign.
Per the BEC handbook, the type of infractions committed by these campaigns would have resulted in a three-day ban on campaigning for each slate. However, BEC Chairwoman Emma Henderson allowed the slates to pay a $300 fine to allow each slate to continue campaigning.
Henderson faced the threat of impeachment earlier in the semester after the decision drew criticism from members of MSA. She said she chose to give both violations the same penalty because both infractions fell under the “major violations” section of the handbook and that MSA’s court justices approved of the decision, she said.
“My hope, now that my term is over and more information is available, is that people find the justice they are seeking,” Henderson said in the statement. “I hope that whatever ends up happening is in the best interest of the student body and works toward the goals of a more open and inclusive campus instead of evening scores or working for political gain. I can say I left my position knowing I did my best with what information I had.”
Everson said the BEC had enough information to give a major infraction to Gomez/Hanner for Pocket Points. She said in her email that the BEC knew the Pocket Points corporate office named Haden Gomez as their contact.
“Although this was clear evidence for a major infraction and potential removal from the election, the chair chose to apply a blanket fine or two slates with very distinct violations,” Everson said. “I strongly believe that violations should be handled separately to ensure that each is addressed with the attention they deserve.”
The infraction committed by the Gomez/Hanner slate was particularly controversial, since it strongly resembles the ban on mass emails stated by the BEC Handbook. Although the BEC Handbook explicitly bans mass emails, it is unclear about newer technology such as apps.
“The handbook is something that gets passed on year to year to year,” Henderson said Tuesday. “Usually you make minor tweaks because you go off of the issues that people had the year before but now that we’ve had all of these issues it’s almost like we have to reevaluate what the BEC chair is going to be having to do because there are now so many other places where people can break the rules.”
Everson said that the language of the BEC handbook is intentionally ambiguous to allow the BEC to rule based on judgement.
“With a chair that neglected their position, rulings were made that were riddled with frivolity and ignorance, discrediting the authority of the handbook,” Everson said.
Senate Speaker Kevin Carr said Jan. 17 many of the problems in the election occurred because the BEC did not have a good enough understanding of the election bylaws to make a proper decision.
“I’ve seen it happen three times where the BEC chairperson will present the BEC handbook and no changes will be made,” Carr said. “I think it’s pretty undoubted we’re going to make either a strong recommendation or we’re going to write it into the next handbook that there can be no mass communication whatsoever.”
Former MSA presidential candidate Syed Ejaz said Jan. 16 that the judicial branch of MSA is in need of reform since it is prone to inaction when problems arise.
“When there’s a problem presented in front of the judicial branch, it looks toward the bylaws themselves, and if there isn’t an answer in the bylaws, they basically choose not to act,” Ejaz said. “That’s what happened in the previous election, and that ultimately resulted in the winner being decided because the judicial branch kind of forgot their role.”
Ejaz also said that the current handbook is “insufficient” and said that the dissatisfaction with the election didn’t necessarily come from the results but in the way problems were handled.
Carr criticized the judicial side of MSA for their lack of involvement in student affairs as well. He said that the MSA justices used to sit on student conduct boards but have since lost their roles on campus.
“(The MSA justices) used to be so busy that they didn’t have time to do anything more and now they don’t do anything outside of elections,” Carr said. “I think that is very upsetting because they used to be a very strong force on this campus and now they’re not.”
As for Henderson, she said in the statement that she left her position as BEC chairwoman knowing that she made her decisions in good faith. She encouraged students involved in MSA to take stock of their motivations to get involved.
If it’s justice you seek, I encourage you to keep fighting for what you believe in,” she said. “If it is for personal gain, try and think about the impact your decisions have on other students. My decisions were not always popular, but I leave office knowing that the difficult decisions I made, I made in good faith.
Edited by Waverly Colville | firstname.lastname@example.org