Eleven election violation complaints were discussed on Monday evening by the UF Student Government Election Commission. Two of them were against The Alligator and both were dismissed in under two minutes.
Two Independent Florida Alligator staffers received emails Thursday evening from the UF Elections Commission Chair Ryan Wiele stating that an election violation had been filed against them and the newspaper. One complaint was directed at Lianna Hubbard, the Student Government beat reporter, and the other at Zachariah Chou, the opinions editor.
Both were filed by Progressive Party President Alfredo Ortiz, who led the Progressive Party during the Spring 2020 election until social media posts showed that he made remarks that were deemed transphobic.
The party fell apart nine days after it officially registered. No candidate that intended to run with Progressive Party appeared on the ballot.
Progressive re-registered Sept. 4 to run for the Fall 2020 Senate elections.
Ortiz told an Alligator reporter in the Spring that he intended to file a lawsuit against The Alligator before the party disbanded. The newspaper never received any notification of legal action.
Both complaints stated that the Alligator staffers violated code 762.0, which states that all campaign material needs to be approved by the Supervisor of Elections and labeled as a political advertisement.
Neither Hubbard’s article nor Chou’s opinion piece were sent to the Supervisor of Elections or labeled as political advertisements because neither were political advertisements.
At the Election Commission's meeting Monday evening, Wiele said that SG’s rules for elections did not apply to The Alligator. Both were dismissed because Wiele said the commission didn’t have a basis to hear the complaints.
“The Alligator is an independent body of news and I don't think that any reading of this you can interpret that the 700 codes apply,” Wiele said.
Six of eleven violations heard were filed by someone affiliated with Progressive Party.
The Alligator functions independently from UF. Any regulations surrounding student organizations do not apply to the newspaper and The Alligator does not identify as, or associate itself with, a Student Government party.
“The Alligator prides itself on our editorial independence from the university,” said Alligator editor-in-chief Kyle Wood. “We will continue to doggedly cover Student Government in the same manner in which we approach all of our reporting – without bias.”
Neither Hubbard, Chou nor The Alligator are involved in the current election. Prior to joining The Alligator, Chou served as a senator for four terms, first as an independent and later with Inspire Party. He resigned from his position in SG prior to joining The Alligator this Fall.
Shortly after the meeting, Ortiz told an Alligator editor he intends to move for the Supreme Court to reconsider the complaints.
Ortizsaid he believes the Elections Commission did have jurisdiction on the case and can be forced through the Supreme Court to hear the case.
In Ortiz’s filed complaint against Hubbard, he claimed that an article she wrote had “a clear anti-Progressive Party bias.”
The article in question describes three new SG parties that registered for the Fall election: Progressive Party, Change Party and Union Party. In the filed complaint, Ortiz states that the article suppressed certain information about other parties, which he said created a bias against his party in favor of the two others.
In the complaint against Chou, Ortiz wrote that an opinion piece that was published in The Alligator was unregistered campaign material for Change Party. The piece is about the need for an online voting option in the upcoming election, and it was published before Change Party registered for the Fall election.
In an interview, Ortiz said his intention is not to call the credibility of Hubbard into question, but to address a bias he perceives to be in The Alligator newsroom when it comes to SG coverage.
The Alligator’s news reporters are unbiased in their coverage, Wood said. Letters to the editor and guests columns are encouraged, as they complement the news and provide a platform for the public.
It is currently unclear if or when the UF Supreme Court will hear the case.