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SGA Election Board disqualified presidential candidate, Supreme Court strikes it down

SGA Election Board disqualified presidential candidate, Supreme Court strikes it down

April 09
19:41 2017

Taylor Crisler | Staff Writer

The UNT Student Government Association released its final election report Friday, a full week after polls closed. In the final tally, Barrett Cole and Lisa Umeh won with more than 65 percent of the vote.

The report contained a statement from the SGA Supreme Court that overruled a prior Election Board hearing, where votes for a candidate team were struck from the final vote tally.

The court unanimously agreed that votes for the Robert Navarro Jr. and Steven Maldonado ticket, which operated under the “YOU-N-T” banner, should be partially reinstated.

Court members found that while the Navarro/Maldonado campaign was in violation of the Election Code during the Election Cookout, the disqualification was “unjust and unequal to the violation in question.” The court deemed this a result of the Election Board’s failure to “give due process to the Navarro/Maldonado campaign during the investigation.”

The “YOU-N-T” disqualification was in response to an alleged campaign violation that a member of the Election Board, David Klein, filed as a complaint. So, what happened?

The Alleged Violation

At about 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, SGA Election Commissioner John Carr saw TWU student Jamie Esparza, a friend of Navarro’s, arrive at the Graduate Student Council and SGA co-sponsored Cast Your Vote Cookout event. Esparza was seen wearing a “YOU-N-T” campaign T-shirt.

“At that point was when I asked Election Board member David Klein to keep an eye on that person,” John Carr said, claiming the Esparza was breaking the guidelines as candidates were instructed “not to distribute campaign materials.”

Esparza maintains she only got to talk to about 20 people, did not solicit votes from any of them, and “never touched a phone.” She says her activities were limited to walking students through voting procedures and directing them to places where they could learn more about all the candidates on the ballot.

She claims at most seven students asked who she was voting for, which is where she told them she could answer any questions about the “YOU-N-T” campaign they had.

Klein said Esparza was herself acting as “campaign materials,” in wearing the shirt, along with “touching phones and talking specifically about that campaign and only that campaign.”

There is some confusion, though. It is not clear why Esparza was not asked to leave immediately and why her information was not collected so that she could be called to testify in the Election Board hearing afterward.

“I wasn’t sure if they would think that a shirt itself would be enough grounds for a disqualification,” Carr said. “Which is why I said [to David Klein] ‘maybe you should watch her, see if she’s specifically campaigning for a certain candidate.'”

Klein admits he only saw Esparza “helping people on their phones” and did not hear Esparza seeking endorsement. About 25 minutes after Esparza arrived, Klein asked her to leave.

His testimony as a witness is based on a conversation he claims happened with a male UNT student, who said he had heard Esparza “mention” the Navarro campaign. Neither Carr nor Klein attempted to record this witness’ information as evidence.

“Not having a process is no excuse for not getting witness statements or witness information to call up for something like a hearing at which you are going to disqualify a ticket,” SGA Supreme Court Chief Justice Jena Chakour said.

The Supreme Court Hearing 

At the SGA Supreme Court hearing on April 5, Robert Navarro presented an email exchange between John Carr and opposing candidate Mia Muric, who gave him the email.

“Muric asked, “Are there a number of witnesses willing to confirm that this allegation occurred?”

John responded, “The students that received the solicitation while in line were witnesses who have not allowed the release of their identities. I also overheard of other individuals who witnessed the incident, but they have not reached out to me directly.”

Navarro’s main contention is that Carr and Klein cannot base their disqualification on overheard, unsourced claims. Navarro and Maldonado also said they were not given adequate time to prepare for the hearing March 30, or they would have been able to bring Esparza.

“There were only 3 out of 6 Election Board members at the Violation Code hearing,” Navarro said. “One of those members was David Klein, who wrote the violation, therefore having an inherent bias against us.”

However, John did not take place in any decision-making at the hearing.

Navarro further alleges that Carr was partial to Barrett Cole, citing tweets from last year’s election where Carr promotes the “THRIVE” platform, which Cole ran on as vice president last year and president this year. When Carr was appointed Election Commissioner in September, Cole tweeted her support for Carr with the hashtag #ThriveWithUs.

“This is the first year my position was paid, so I think I’ve paid attention to [the bylaws] more than a lot of past people have,” Carr said. “Disqualification is really the only thing we can do.”

Chief Justice Jena Chakour asked Carr why the Board chose disqualification, “which would imply a certain magnitude of violation, without confirming significance, which you had access to.”

“At the time of the hearing, nobody knew the results of the election,” Carr said, so the significance of the campaign violation was established from Esparza being at the SGA event for a fourth of its duration.

The altered Supreme Court ruling strikes all votes cast for Navarro and Maldonado between 3 and 5 p.m. March 29 from the final tally. “This consequence was voted by the Court to fit the violation of the event.” 

“At this point,” Navarro said, “I’m just tired of fighting the system.”

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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1 Comment

  1. David Klein
    David Klein April 23, 08:31

    David Klein was never contacted for this story. I am David Klein.

    Reply to this comment

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