Although the Student Government codes specify the Elections Commission should be made up of six members, seven people acting as members discussed and voted on three election code violations at a meeting Monday night.
Early Tuesday, Elections Commission Chair Troy Mainzer confirmed there were seven voting members. Per election codes, the Election Commission is a non-partisan group of six law students who hear election violation complaints submitted by SG participants.
During the Monday meeting, commissioners decided Challenge Party violated election codes and voted to recommend the disqualification of an Inspire Party candidate to the UF Supreme Court.
Supervisor of Elections Erica Baker confirmed seven people deliberated and voted on the first two hearings. Baker said she didn’t count how many people were serving as commissioners.
Baker refused to say whether a code violation occurred. She said as a non-partisan official, commenting would be taking a party’s side. She said it’s up to the UF Supreme Court to decide whether a code was violated and if the commission’s decisions were illegal.
Former commissioners Stefano Battistoni and Michael Livers were present in the meeting while the first two cases of potential election code violations were argued. According to the SG website, their terms expired in Fall 2017.
Mainzer said when commissioners realized Battistoni and Livers’ terms had expired, they were asked to leave. Both left before the third case was argued.
Commissioners Kingman Keating, David Walsh, Michael Bauman, John Reddin and Mainzer were present for the all of the cases.
Judiciary Chairwoman Emily Dempsey confirmed Battistoni was nominated by former Student Body President Susan Webster in November 2016 and Livers was nominated by Smith Meyers when he was Senate president in November 2016. Keating and Mainzer were nominated by UF Supreme Court Chief Justice Meagan McCarthy in December 2017. Reddin and Jacob Peek were both nominated by Meyers. Reddin was nominated in August 2017 and Peek was nominated in December 2017. Walsh was nominated by Jackie Phillips when she was Senate president in August 2017. Bauman was nominated by Senate President Ian Green in December 2017.
Mainzer said the codes weren’t violated because Battistoni’s and Livers’ votes did not count. He said even without them, the first two cases are still 4-0.
“At most, it was just two other people sitting there,” Mainzer said.
He said even if they had to rehear the cases, the outcome would remain the same because people present with current terms voted affirmatively.
Here’s a breakdown of each violation the commission heard at this meeting and how it voted:
Impact Party vs. Inspire Party
UF law student Blake Murphy, who served as the legal counsel for Impact, filed a complaint on behalf of the party against Patrick Brathwaite, the Inspire law candidate.
Murphy argued Brathwaite created a secret Facebook group that reached about 220 law students, which, according to Murphy, is about a quarter of the students in the law school.
The commission voted unanimously that Brathwaite violated election codes because he did not report the posts in the group to Supervisor of Elections Erica Baker. According to the SG election codes, candidates must report every single political advertisement to Baker.
Inspire spokesperson Ashley Grabowski said when Brathwaite realized what he had done could be a violation, he archived the group and sent everything to Baker. When a Facebook group is archived, nobody can post or comment anymore, but all of the information remains there. The commission recommended the UF Supreme Court to disqualify Brathwaite.
Murphy said the creation of the secret page left Impact’s law candidate, Paul Cuffe, at a disadvantage that he didn’t have enough time to recover from, just days before the election.
“What Patrick did was cheating,” Murphy said. “We’re confident in the elections commission made the correct decision in recommending he be disqualified to the Supreme Court, and I’m confident that the Supreme Court will likewise see the merit in our case.”
Grabowski said Brathwaite meant well, and he just intended to organize his supporter base.
“It’s disappointing he might be qualified for a simple mistake,” Grabowski said.
She said it’s hard to see Brathwaite worrying about the hearing instead of working on his campaign.
“We support him and we’re still hoping to continue his candidacy,” Grabowski said.
Inspire Party vs. Challenge Party
The commission found that Challenge violated election codes when it used voter data from Inspire to contact students. Commissioners said they considered Challenge’s actions unethical.
The commission punished Challenge by ordering the party to put out a Facebook post apologizing for using Inspire’s data. The post must specify how many email addresses or names they obtained, and it should have been posted by midnight Tuesday, commissioners said.
Challenge shared this Facebook post at 11:59 p.m. Monday: “We have been informed that some students received unsolicited emails from our campaign. We apologize for this inconvenience.
Commissioners said Inspire’s information was not stolen, but “given to” Challenge. Inspire and Challenge representatives and the commissioners acknowledged Branden Pearson, a senator who disaffiliated from Inspire two weeks ago, was somehow involved in the disclosure of the data. The Alligator could not reach Pearson for comment.
However, the Elections Commission Chair Troy Mainzer said the party doesn’t need to specify from who it got the data so that it doesn’t damage the party’s credibility ahead of the elections starting Tuesday.
“We thought with how close it is to elections right now, we felt that would be the most fair that we wouldn’t do anything that would impact the election,” Mainzer said. “We didn’t think it was necessary for people to know what party it was taken from.”
Mainzer said commissioners chose Facebook as the only social media platform for the apology because it would reach the largest number of people.
Grabowski said they wanted to respect students’ privacy and only communicate with students who express they would like that. She said this is why Inspire asked students for their contact information, rather than going into the UF directory and compiling emails.
“We do not collect their information unless they willingly volunteer it to us,” Grabowski said. “They volunteer to be contacted by Inspire Party specifically.”
Wayne Selogy, Challenge Party’s Campaign Manager, said Challenge didn’t know the data was from Inspire when it received it.
“When we found out via Inspire that it was their data, we ceased using it,” Selogy said. “We’ve never used that data again, and we’ve had plenty of opportunity to.”
Impact Party vs. Challenge Party
In the final election complaint heard at Monday’s hearing, Murphy argued that Challenge did not register some of its political advertisements before posting.
The commission unanimously ruled that there were various posts by Challenge Party on Facebook that were not registered. Murphy said it was about seven posts. Commissioners punished Challenge with a cease and desist order, telling the party to meet with Baker as soon as possible to discuss how to prevent future violations.
The party can’t post any further campaign material until it meets with Baker. Selogy said Baker can’t meet with the party until around 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Mainzer said Challenge repeatedly made the mistake “for months.” However, Challenge started campaigning Jan. 23 — 28 days ago.
“We thought because it happened so many times over a long period, that meeting was more necessary,” Mainzer said.
Murphy said this puts parties who follow the rules and procedures at a disadvantage, so he went through and found every post that didn’t have reg.pol.ad.
“With the knowledge that Challenge is a new political party and has not gone through this process before, that led me to believe that they didn’t register any of these advertisements,” Murphy said.
Selogy said he doesn’t think the commission listened to Challenge’s argument, which was they didn’t receive any warnings from Baker.
“The cease and desist is a strategy to stop us from succeeding,” Selogy said. “The Student Body will see that we are a threat to the system party, and these voters have already made up their mind. This is more anecdotal evidence of why we are the party that should be elected.”