Election investigation resolved: Anonymous letters insufficient evidence to modify results

Ethan Metcalf

Newly elected SGA Secretary David Joseph, marketing and mass communication major, talks with outgoing SGA officers, Melody Gregory, mechanical engineering senior, Leona Sandiford, senior in theater, and Wendy Fredrick, senior, at the SGA banquet April 29. Photo by Lauren Roberts
Newly elected SGA Secretary David Joseph, marketing and mass communication major, talks with outgoing SGA officers, Melody Gregory, mechanical engineering senior, Leona Sandiford, senior in theater, and Wendy Fredrick, senior, at the SGA banquet April 29. Photo by Lauren Roberts

The Student Government Board of Elections concluded its investigation on April 29 into the alleged violation of campaign procedures by a candidate for secretary, allowing David Joseph, junior in marketing and mass communication, to take office.

“We did not find sufficient evidence to alter or modify the results of the election, nor determine a candidate was in direct violation of the Election Code as written in the SGA Bylaws,” Jane Tran, nursing senior and chair of the Board of Elections, said in a statement released April 29. “Therefore, we have now certified the results for the Secretary position.”

Dean of Students Matthew Park said the Board of Elections, chaired by Tran and advised by Michael Mills, director of housing and dining services, received anonymous allegations that a candidate for secretary was “not following campaign guidelines,” but according to SGA President Melody Coffey, mechanical engineering senior, the complaints did not provide enough evidence because the anonymous parties did not want to be identified.

“They could have gotten more information from them if they decided to come forward to us. There was about one sentence about the computer lab so that’s what we were investigating,” Coffey said. “The anonymous letters we got said the candidate was there, but there wasn’t really enough proof to say that the candidate was there and campaigning.”

This year’s secretary candidates were Joseph and Rachel Whatley, senior in radiology. Park did not say whether one or both of the candidates were under investigation.

Coffey said the Elections Board usually consists of seven to 10 members, but only two students, Sarah Muschiol, English senior, and Nanette Philip, mechanical engineering senior, served on the board in addition to the chair and the adviser.

“This time we had about three members and that’s due to two members were actually running in the race so they had to step down out of that position,” Coffey said. “It probably helped because it was easier to get into contact with them as quickly as Dr. Mills did to go ahead and start the investigation.”

According to the SGA bylaws election code, “There shall be no campaigning within any MSU Computer Labs or within areas defined by the Board of Elections,” and, “Candidates must read and understand the Election Code, sign a statement confirming that they understand it, and realize that they may be subject to penalty if they violate it.”

Coffey said the candidates are informed of these bylaws in a meeting.

“We do meet and then go over everything, go over the bylaws and the big important issues especially the computer labs. We make sure they understand and then they sign that they understood and agree,” Coffey said.

Joseph said he was not at that meeting and did not receive a copy of the bylaws.

“I wasn’t at that meeting because I was at the student allocation fund that was the same day. We were there for like five hours,” Joseph said. “I wish I would have gotten the bylaws because I would have had a better understanding as to what to do and what not to do, and basically everybody was campaigning close to a computer. I’m a person who likes to follow rules because when I’m in the student government, I have to follow rules.”

Joseph said he wants to make sure that future candidates are made aware of all campaign and election procedures.

“Next year we need to educate people about the bylaws. We didn’t know half of the things in the bylaws, so if we can let people know what the bylaws are all about and brief them as to the important parts going into the campaign, people will have a better understanding of what to do and what not to do,” Joseph said. “I’m going to do something to change what happened last week because I don’t want it to happen to somebody else. I know from experience, I can pass it on to somebody else. I don’t want anybody to go through this because this was really tough.”

Coffey said the board wanted to conclude the investigation in time for the April 29 SGA banquet, but she said the investigation was not rushed.

“We weren’t rushing it by any means because we wanted to get enough information, and with those anonymous complaints and not being able to put a name to it and ask those people more, it really helped conclude the investigation,” Coffey said. “There really wasn’t enough evidence. We can say that there’s not enough time but we would have kept this investigation going if we felt that it was necessary. When they talked to the candidate they got all their information out of them and I feel like it was more of a conclusion than, ‘We need to rush and figure this out.’”

Park said the board’s response is entirely dependent on how much information was gathered by the investigation.

“If they do know, then they could potentially disqualify a candidate or decide a new election for that position needs to be done. That’s really all the options they have. They can’t go in and take votes out,” Park said.

Coffey said she ultimately agrees with the Election Board’s decision that not enough evidence was available.

“There really was not enough evidence with the anonymous complaints. Yes they’re complaints, but we needed a little bit more substantial proof. With no proof you never know if it’s actually something that happened or if somebody has a problem with that particular person, if it’s personal drama or actually something that will ruin the integrity of the Student Government,” Coffey said.

Poster inaccuracy

A poster attached to the door of the SGA’s office wrongly stated that the election ends on April 25 at 5 p.m., but Mills said that it is likely just a typo.

“Even in the text it says the 21st through the 24th so I think that that may have been a typo. I wasn’t even aware of that until I saw that on the flyer just a second ago. The voting was only live in the portal through the 24th, and as far as I know that’s the only piece of information that says the 25th,” Mills said.

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