Two candidates or three? Student Court to decide
The court will choose to uphold or repeal a decision from MSA's elections commissioners keeping Travis-Horan off the ballot.
Nov. 12, 2010
Whether two or three Missouri Students Association presidential slates appear on Monday's online ballot is entirely in the MSA Student Court’s hands, as of Thursday night.
Three pairs of candidates: Ben Hansen and Kaitlin Oxenreider, Josh Travis and Michelle Horan and Eric Woods and Emily Moon, entered the race for the MSA presidency and vice presidency in September. But, a decision from MSA's Board of Elections Commissioners withstanding, only two will appear on the ballot when online voting is set to begin Monday.
Facing three separate infractions by the BEC, the Travis-Horan slate has appealed all three charges and submitted separate defense briefs for the charges to the Student Court by Thursday night.
On Monday, the BEC, the board responsible for maintaining fairness and taking disciplinary action in MSA elections, issued an infraction to the Travis-Horan slate for using university e-mail listservs for campaigning purposes. The Student Court, BEC and Travis-Horan slate convened in a closed meeting Monday night after Travis submitted a formal complaint regarding the infraction.
“The BEC finds that this is an intentional infraction committed by the Travis/Horan slate for the following reasons,” the BEC stated in the official infraction. “First, the exact same e-mail was sent from each person showing that this was an organized email. Second the e-mail was done at approximately the same time and on the same day about 6 hours before the election. Third, the emails were all targeted to class list servers.”
Despite a grey area, Student Court Chief Justice Lischen Reeves’ court upheld the BEC’s sanction in that discussion.
“Our own grey area comes when determining what should happen when a slate refuses a sanction,” Reeves said.
In its official brief sent to the Student Court, the Travis-Horan campaign refuted the infraction and said Horan had no influence over the third party members who sent the e-mail.
“The only influence the Travis-Horan slate had over the third party actors was when Michelle Horan approached the leadership of her sorority,” the brief stated. "The members who did send emails decided to send out the e-mails.”
Reeves said the key question at hand during that discussion became whether Horan was the original author of the e-mail in question. In the unofficial briefs submitted by Travis, this was confirmed, she said.
“Prior the e-mail being sent, Michelle Horan approached the leadership of Delta Gamma Sorority, of which she is a member, and asked if the sorority would use its own list server to send out a message from Michelle to all Delta Gamma members,” stated the slate’s brief. “In this message, Michelle asks her sorority sisters to distribute a form letter -– that she provided -– to their classmates.”
According to the BEC Handbook, using university accounts and class listservs to send mass e-mails is considered an intentional infraction, punishable by loss of campaigning privileges for one week.
“Both the slate and the BEC are in an incredibly vulnerable position,” Reeves said.
After two additional infractions were brought against his slate Wednesday evening, Travis was officially removed from the ballot pursuant to BEC Handbook. According to the MSA Bylaws, the slate can appeal BEC imposed infractions to the Student Court. The slate appealed all three infractions and submitted their defense briefs for the second two infractions late Thursday evening.
The main complaint by the Travis-Horan slate and its supporters is that they were not given due process in BEC dealings.
“I think it’s clear what their (BEC) intentions are,” Travis said in a previous Maneater article. “The BEC is trying to get us out of the election. This is voided due process — we were not given the chance to comment.”
Senate Speaker Evan Wood, a public supporter of the Travis-Horan slate, said that, although due process is never defined nor outlined in the bylaws or handbook, he thinks the slate was not afforded it.
Reeves said inconsistencies and vague language in the MSA Bylaws, Board of Elections Commissioners Handbook and Student Court Handbook have made these questions difficult. She said the BEC is not required by any association rulings to provide a hearing.
“I was always under the impression that due process was the appeal process in the bylaws,” she said.
Both of the additional infractions were deemed by the BEC as falling under the “intentional infraction category.” The second infraction accuses the slate of falsifying official BEC documents regarding the campaign’s funds.
“There were other inconsistencies that BEC members found, specifically dealing with lack of documentation regarding PayPal, the inaccurate reports resulting from this and discrepancies involving expenditures,” stated the report of the second infraction from the BEC.
In response to the second infraction, the slate’s brief goes into the intricacies of each charge and concludes with a guilty plee, but only to a negligent infraction, rather than an intentional. In the final paperwork the slate submitted, they apologize upfront for negligent mistakes in the past.
“It is useful to note that the mistake concerning the undocumented PayPal account donations was first identified by the Travis-Horan slate and not by the Board of Election Commissioners," the second Travis-Horan defense brief stated. "This does not in any way reflect the behavior of a slate willfully deceiving the BEC, or of a slate intentionally falsifying documents.”
The brief goes on to blame the mistakes and missing figures on miscommunication between the campaign's treasurer and other campaign officials when submitting the documents.
The third infraction issued was similar in nature and focused on campaign T-shirts sold to Horan’s Delta Gamma sorority, for which the BEC said funds were undocumented. In its defense brief, the slate argues Horan’s mother incurred the cost when it was made apparent the sorority would not be able to provide money for the shirts upfront.
The Student Court will determine whether to uphold the BEC’s infractions or to rule in favor of the Travis-Horan slate before the rescheduled Monday election. Reeves said, if anything, this process should teach the association its documents need to be updated and revised.
“Because of the vague (book) we’re working with, everyone has a different interpretation,” she said. “Our legislative branch needs to be more thorough, it’s their only job.”
The BEC: Where its boundaries lie
After the events of the past week, BEC Chairman Jake Sloan concurred with Reeve’s claim that the vague nature of the bylaws contributed to the confusion regarding the BEC’s jurisdiction and duties.
The BEC Handbook is revised every year by each new board. Sloan said the majority of the handbook is derived from instances that have occurred in previous elections, meaning that when new problems arise, it can be difficult to make a ruling without precedent.
“The BEC Handbook and bylaws is written from mistakes,” he said.
Based on what the bylaws explicitly allowed, and what they failed to address, Sloan said he believes he and his committee operated within their bounds.
“I believe we made the best decision for all three slates and the students, and the students are the most important,” he said.
Wood said that, in its actions, the BEC has failed to treat each slate fairly in its dealings.
“Fairness for me would imply equal treatment of slates and thus far that has not been demonstrated,” Wood said.
The BEC faced criticism from Travis' supporters this week when it dismissed a charge submitted by an anonymous student against the Hansen-Oxenreider campaign. The student said in his original e-mail that he did not wish to be contacted further. His e-mail included nine photos of the alleged illegal campaign flier placement, but no location was given for the photos.
“In response to allegations that your slate is guilty of purposefully removing and covering other candidates' campaign material, we the BEC have determined that there will be no intentional infraction charged due to inconclusive evidence,” an e-mail from the BEC to the Hansen-Oxenreider slate stated. “After carefully inspecting both Strickland Hall and the Arts and Sciences Building, we the BEC Executives didn't detect any sign of tampering or illegal actions as listed in the BEC Handbook.”
Many of the photos showed Hansen-Oxenreider fliers partially covering Travis-Horan fliers. The BEC received the complaint Tuesday morning, but Travis-Horan fliers were taken down Monday night per ordering of the BEC.
The Office of the Inspector General: An altered investigation
Shortly after midnight Thursday morning, the executive members of the BEC received an e-mail from MSA Inspector General Eric Hucker saying their board was under investigation.
Three reasons were given by Hucker in the e-mail as to why he decided to conduct the investigation: whether the BEC failed to give due process to the Travis-Horan slate in the issuance of three separate election infractions; whether the BEC overstepped the bounds of its authority in its action to postpone the 2010 election by one week with less than 24 hours advanced notice to the student body and whether the BEC overstepped the bounds of its authority in dealing with members of the Delta Gamma chapter in correspondence that was improperly and unnecessarily forceful and intimidating.
The Office of the Inspector General was created in fall 2009 in a bill co-authored by Travis and Wood. Former MSA Senate Speaker Amanda Shelton appointed Hucker to the position in February.
According to the MSA Bylaws, the OIG is charged with conducting independent and objective audits, investigations and inspections.
Hours after the original notice of investigation Thursday morning, Hucker sent an amended notice to the BEC.
“I did not initially realize how much my original commission interfered with the current court proceedings between the BEC and the Travis/Horan slate,” Hucker said in an e-mail.
The amended notice of investigation changed the nature of the three objectives to be more investigative of the language of the bylaws that could have led to the contested areas in the election.
“These amendments were made so the court could continue in its proceedings unimpeded,” he said in the e-mail. “I will be focusing mainly on policy descrepencies that may have led to these problems in my investigation.”
Pending the Student Court decision, online voting for the MSA presidential election will commence at 6 p.m. Monday and will continue through 6 p.m. Wednesday.