The Student Government Judicial Court is set to determine whether the Election Supervisory Board violated procedure in administering the disqualification of former SG candidates Madison Gardner and Antonio Guevara today.
The candidates appealed the Board’s ruling last Thursday and claimed the Election Supervisory Board violated procedure when evaluating a complaint against their campaign. In their appeal, Gardner and Guevara claim the Board violated their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and petitioned to have their disqualification be reassessed by the Board.
Gardner stated the Board infringed on his and Guevara’s constitutional rights because they tried them twice for procuring services from a professional web designer, a violation of the Fifth Amendment that protects people against double jeopardy. The Board ruled on Feb. 10 the candidates did not violate any rules because the designer in question, James Skidmore, is a student at Texas A&M and not a professional. The Election Code requires candidates report all professional services at fair market value even if they were granted said services at a discounted rate.
Gardner also claimed the Board violated their Sixth Amendment right, alleging Board chair Eric Nimmer filed a complaint against them during the hearing for not reporting an earlier campaign fine issued by the Board. Furthermore, Gardner claimed they were not given a hearing for this infraction. This violation, stated Gardner in the argument, denied them of the right to be informed, to be confronted of the witnesses against them and to have the assistance of a counsel for their defense.
Nimmer said he does not feel the Board’s decision violated the U.S. Constitution. He also said he did not file a complaint against the candidates but had discovered a violation during the hearing, which the rules allow. He said he received a blank financial statement from the candidates March 19 along with a message stating they had not incurred any expenses or received contributions since the disclosure they submitted on Feb. 15.
Aakash Kumar, who represented Gardner and Guevara to the Judicial Court, said the court must look toward the U.S. Constitution as a guideline for their decision.
“Think about this in term of intent,” Kumar said, claiming the candidates did not intend to falsify their documents to gain an advantage. “Apply a [Constitutional] higher standard when you’re making a decision, a standard we govern living by. Outside of this, we don’t live on what the ESB said.”
Kumar also said the punishments delivered by the court were too severe for the mistakes they had committed, which were not willful and blatant. To support this claim, Kumar cited the case of current SG president Natalie Butler and vice president Ashley Baker. Butler and Baker acquired approximately $405 in fines, more than 50 percent of their campaign budget, last semester and were tried for violating campaigning rules during moratorium multiple times but were not disqualified.
The Election Code has since changed since Butler and Baker ran. Last year, candidates were not penalized for the amount of fines they acquired. Today, candidates who exceed 20 percent of their total campaign budget in fines are
At the hearing, candidate Guevara said he did not know he had sent Nimmer inaccurate financial documents and that they had accidentally sent the wrong file.
Nimmer said the hearing was the first time he had heard the wrong document had been sent, but he affirmed that the candidates had taken no prior action to rectify the mistake on their financials and would still be disqualified.
He said last year the Election Code required candidates actions to be proven blatant and willful to merit disqualification, a clause that does not exist in the code this year. He said the Board does not have to determine whether a candidate’s actions are willful and blatant because it does not matter anymore.
“Their only defense was not that they didn’t do it,” Nimmer said. “But that ‘it’s our bad and you guys were nicer last year.’ And I don’t care, because the Election Code says our Board has discretion and that’s nine people.”