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Monday, May 23, 2022
<p>Unite Party members celebrate an election victory Thursday morning. The Unite Party won 46 of 50 contested seats. The Students Party took three seats and an independent student won one seat.</p>

Unite Party members celebrate an election victory Thursday morning. The Unite Party won 46 of 50 contested seats. The Students Party took three seats and an independent student won one seat.

When Student Government Supervisor of Elections Toni Megna announced the results of the fall Student Senate elections, members of the Unite Party jumped up for their usual cheers and whistles.

Unite Party candidates claimed 46 of the 50 seats up for election this cycle. Students Party candidates won three seats, and one independent candidate was elected.

About 87 percent of the 7,229 students who voted on the referendum to repeal the 15 percent tuition hike recently imposed by the administration. A referendum question gauges student opinion but takes no actual action.

This year, 8,271 ballots were cast, compared to the 7,526 last year.

The results may not even matter, though. Errors with the new electronic voting system might have caused students to accidentally vote in the wrong district. When student addresses were loaded into the computer system, many of the addresses were students' permanent home addresses instead of their Gainesville addresses.

Records indicate 535 students voted in District E, which is the district for commuter students. Of those, 501 voted for Unite Party candidate Brett Rowland. That district includes all ZIP codes except for those specified in Districts A, B, C and D. Last fall, only 65 students voted in District E, according to the SG website.

Megna said she didn't think the numbers reflect problems in the system.

"We had no technical errors," Megna said.

Gillian Leytham, minority party leader of the Students Party, said the results don't accurately represent the will of the students.

"There is an epic failure of the system," she said.

This is SG's first time using electronic voting.

Jonathan Ossip, a member of the Students Party and former student senator, also said the polls didn't all open at 8 a.m. Tuesday, which he said suppressed voters. Ossip said he didn't hear about any problems on Wednesday.

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Senate President Micah Lewis proposed the switch from paper to electronic voting during the summer. He said it would reduce elections costs and be more secure than paper voting.

In the spring elections, three students voted multiple times on paper ballots at different polls across campus to demonstrate the flaws in the system.

For this election cycle, the Students Party scheduled an emergency hearing with the UF Supreme Court Tuesday evening to look into invalidating Tuesday's results and rescheduling elections. Complaints usually go to the Elections Commission first, but the Students Party members bypassed that because they qualified the situation as an emergency.

However, Supreme Justice Matt Michel and three Associate Justices decided not to hold an emergency meeting. State law requires public meeting information be posted 24 hours before the meeting itself, and Michel said the UF Supreme Court was uncomfortable trying to interpret whether they could make an exception.

Leytham filed complaints with the supervisor of elections and with the Elections Commission. Megna said she knew of four complaints filed by midnight Wednesday.

But all of this didn't put a damper on the Unite Party's celebration.

Unite Party spokeswoman Christina Bonarrigo said words couldn't describe her party's excitement following the results.

"All our hard work paid off," she said. "Come next Tuesday we'll be off to a great start."

The Unite Party platform emphasized establishing a 24-hour library, increasing scooter parking on campus, adding bottle-filling water fountains, expanding SNAP and weekend bus availability and placing hand sanitizer dispensers in residence halls.

Although the party only won the minority, Students Party director of communications Carly Wilson said the results are still an improvement from prior cycles.

Students Party candidates campaigned on eliminating corruption in SG, fighting a 15 percent tuition increase, and creating bus stops that include GPS monitors to track the buses.

After the Elections Commission meets, if one of the parties chooses to appeal the ruling on the validity of the results to the Supreme Court, the court can make a separate ruling. Michel said the Supreme Court has final jurisdiction.

Associate Justice Tim Mason said it doesn't matter whether the Student Senate validates the results at Tuesday's meeting because the Supreme Court's decision would override it.

Student Body President Ben Meyers, of the Unite Party, said he thinks the Students Party's complaint is "undemocratic."

"I absolutely think the results will be upheld in the Supreme Court because it values democracy," he said.

Unite Party members celebrate an election victory Thursday morning. The Unite Party won 46 of 50 contested seats. The Students Party took three seats and an independent student won one seat.

Michael Morales, a political science junior, reads the Student Government election results with fellow Students Party supporter 20-year-old biology junior Aimee Dolan Thursday morning. The Students Party won three of 50 contested seats.

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