A Travis County judge issued a termporary restraining order postponing the Student Government presidential and vice presidential elections for at least two weeks Tuesday.
Judge Tim Sulak will next review a suit filed by former presidential candidate Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara to decide whether they will be put back on the ballot. The Gardner campaign filed the suit against UT and SG on Monday claiming the Election Code the Election Supervisory Board and the SG Judicial Court used to disqualify them on Feb. 22 is a violation of their First Amendment rights to association under the U.S. Constitution.
The campus-wide elections for all other positions will still be held today and Thursday as planned, according to the official board opinion from chair Eric Nimmer.
The Board disqualified the campaign for associating with Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley by including her in photos, videos, website banners and other campaign promotional materials. Under the Election Code, candidates are not allowed to associate with one another and any violation can result in immediate disqualification.
Sulak granted Gardner’s request for a temporary restraining order and said he granted it to give the parties who wish to be on the ballot, parties who are on the ballot and parties who wish to vote an opportunity to have the merits of the Election Code considered by the court. Gardner voted in favor of a version of the code that included the rule forbidding association between candidates for different races when he was a University-wide representative in 2010-2011. Gardner said when he voted for the code he was confused on the intent of the association provision and does not agree with the harshness of the penalty for violating that rule.
Austin lawyer Jason Snell is representing Gardner while Leo Barnes, associate vice president for legal affairs, is representing UT. Assistant Texas Attorney General Daniel Perkins is representing SG.
Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs, said Barnes expressed neutrality on behalf of the UT administration and requested guidance from the Court.
At the hearing, Snell said there will be no form of compensation for opportunities lost if Gardner and Guevara do not get a chance to run.
“Once Mr. Gardner graduates, there is no adequate remedy of law and there is no money to compensate them for lost opportunities to put [it] on their resume, transcript, applications,” Snell said. “All these good things that could result from being the president and vice president of one the greatest universities in the world.”
Gardner said he just wants the experience of serving the University for a year and representing students. Gardner said his campaign did not deserve a disqualification because Kelley is one of 40 people in the promotional materials and is not an SG candidate.
“We really believe in our cause,” Gardner said. “I really care about this and this University and the things I was looking forward to doing over the next year. I believe in it so much, I want to make sure I did everything I could have done to be on the ballot.”
On Sunday, Gardner said the majority of students are not represented by the presidential candidates John Lawler and Thor Lund, the only candidates remaining on the ballot after the disqualification of Yaman Desai and Ryan Shingledecker’s withdrawal.
Guevara is not named in the title of the suit, and he said Sunday he was uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing legal action.
SG President Natalie Butler said she found out about the lawsuit this afternoon and may be subpoenaed as an agent for SG. Butler said although Gardner serves as the external financial director for her executive board, this is not an act by her administration. This is the fourth consecutive year SG has faced problems in presidential and vice presidential elections.
“I don’t know if the Election Code is unconstitutional because it’s functioned before,” Butler said. “So I don’t know why it’s coming up now because it’s been in use for several years.”
Butler said this lawsuit is a poor reflection of SG that decreases voter turnout and gives students the impression SG is all about winning elections.
Candidate John Lawler testified at the hearing and said postponing the presidential and vice presidential election would hinder his campaign because he does not have the funds or resources to continue campaigning. Lawler said this lawsuit was putting students’ democracy at risk for the sake of two individuals.
“We feel if you grant this injunction you’re giving people who have the most money the [advantage],” Lawler said. “You’re favoring people who have the most time and resources that the typical student does not have.”
— Additional reporting by Audrey White and Thomas Allison
Published on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 as : SG presidental vote delayed