One candidate has been disqualified, and a second runoff election is in the works as this historic election cycle continues.
In the past two weeks, history has been made in the Student Government Association executive elections, and it’s not the kind that bears remembering. The first general election ended in a runoff in which former presidential candidate Athan Lau cruised to victory, but he committed three election violations in the process. Lau’s first violation was sending a campaign email to the Law School student body without gaining approval from the Student Government Association Chief Elections Officer; secondly, he failed to provide a disclaimer on his email that any message is subject to review by the Elections Committee; and thirdly, and in his most contested violation, he campaigned through an online campus forum without official endorsement from TU’s Law School.
After the violations committed in the runoff election, the Elections Committee decided to host a second runoff between Sepand Ashenayi and Athan Lau, while ensuring the student body could be aware of the violations committed by Lau. Before the second runoff could begin, Ashenayi had an appeal submitted on his behalf (pertaining to the decision of the Elections Committee) to the judicial council of Student Government Association. In addition to the appeal, Lau opted to sue Matt Mangan, and the SGA elections committee on claims of bias, unjust due process and material impact of Lau’s multiple violations.
The judicial council met Wednesday, March 1 at 9 p.m. and had deliberations and discussion until 1 a.m. Thursday morning. In the case of Lau v. Mangan & The SA Elections Committee, Lau opted for legal representation from current TU law student, Brandon Swearengin, which led to the denial of four out of five claims he argued. Following the lengthy deliberations, the judicial council decided to disqualify Lau as a presidential candidate and move forward with an unprecedented second runoff election between Ashenayi and Jennifer Fierro, the third place finisher in the original general election. I’d be remiss to not recognize the efficiency of work done by the judicial council in publishing their impactful findings.
I was able to sit down with the former presidential candidate Lau, one hour after the judicial council released their findings. We spoke on what he expects his role to be in the Student Government Association moving forward. Lau’s initial reaction to his disqualification was relief and that a weight had been lifted off his chest. Lau states that he “knows and trusts the justices and judicial council took into consideration of the law” in regards to his respect for the decision. Lau believes that the Elections Committee’s initial decision was unfair due to the “short-term notices” and he felt that there were a lot of rumors he heard that were not the best. While rumors are rarely held up in judicial courts, there was some validity in the speed in which the Elections Committee moved. The singular claim that Lau had affirmed in judicial council pertained to the third violation he committed and its addition ex post facto, or retroactively. Lau’s third violation was announced separately from his first two and only in the Elections Committee official decision. The ex post facto violation was representative of double jeopardy and justly removed from additional deliberation.
Lau still calls for changes to the Elections Committee’s guidelines and opinions, saying that “the elections code has not been updated in a very long while.” According to the Student Government Association hub, the Elections Committee’s guidelines were last updated in April of 2020. When asked about what rules specifically he’d like to change, Lau wants to see “proper timelines and to make sure the rules are fair to all candidates.” Lau also admits that he is not sure what proper timelines in elections operations would mean.
Lau also denotes himself as “unsure” of his future in SGA but “still wants to serve my friends and serve my students to the best of my ability.” His outlook moving forward is one of gratitude, expressing that he wants to “thank everyone for this learning opportunity, because despite everything that had happened, this situation was a really great time for everyone to learn and grow together.”
This year’s election drama seems to make up for the many years past in which the SGA executive elections were largely unopposed. The upcoming second runoff election will be a first for TU’s student body and it exemplifies the bureaucratic busyness SGA has mastered.