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Q&A: Student Government adviser weighs in on the special election

Donald Van Pelt maintains the statutes need to be revamped for the future.

Student+Activities+and+Involvement+Director+Donald+Van+Pelt.+Alexander+Rodriguez+%7C+News+Editor+
Student Activities and Involvement Director Donald Van Pelt. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Student Activities and Involvement Director Donald Van Pelt. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Student Activities and Involvement Director Donald Van Pelt. Alexander Rodriguez | News Editor

Alexander Rodriguez, News Editor

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As the director of Student Activities and Involvement, Donald Van Pelt helps advise Student Government.  

And over the course of the last month, he’s aided in advising students on the special election, which was called after the February election winners were disqualified for violating campaign rules.

While he supports the special election, Van Pelt said he believes the statutes need to be updated. Here, he gives his take on the special election so far.

The following email interview remains unedited.

UP: Do you believe this special election is legal? Why?

Yes, I believe the Special Election is legal. The spring 2018 elections was invalidated, in accordance with the elections statue 320.000, the elections board called for a special election.

UP: Do you believe having a special election will change the outcome? I.e. Do you think the previous winning ticket, Jacqueline LaBayne and Kyle MacDonald, will win again? And if so, why?  

Having a special election will give all students an opportunity for their voices to be heard. We have two tickets and are expecting a competitive special election and the outcome is in the hands of the student body.

UP: Can you explain the special election clearly so students not involved with SG can better understand it?

I will explain this situation in its simplest form, however this is a complex situation. There was a total of 8.2% of the student body that voted, this is considered a high turnout for Florida Atlantic University. Before releasing official results, students who feel that a candidate has violated election rules may file a contestation. A contestation requires the election board to review the allegation and determine whether a violation occurred, if a violation occurred was it a major violation or minor violation, or whether the violation impacted the election results.

The elections board heard all contestations on March 2 and decided that none of them impacted the elections results. Therefore, the contestations were dismissed. Prior to election results being officially released, students can appeal contestation results to the student court if they believe that the elections board committed an error in their decision. Several appeals were sent to the court alleging the elections board ruled in error.

The court found that a major violation had occurred when a GoFund me page, that was approved by the elections board, was posted on Facebook for approximately 20 hours. The penalty for a major violation is either removal of votes but only when evidence demonstrates the exact number of votes acquired as a result of the violation or disqualification. Since the court had no way of tallying any votes that may have resulted from the social media post, three of the four chief justices felt they had no choice but to disqualify the candidates.

An appeal was filed to the Vice President of Student Affairs alleging due process had been violated since the contestation had already been ruled upon by the election board and dismissed, and they had unofficially won the election by almost 900 student votes. The Vice President of Student Affairs reviewed the appeal and responded that due process was provided and ultimately referred the matter back to the Elections Board.

The Elections Board Chair believed that in order to uphold the integrity of student government elections, the students voice should determine their student representatives and therefore, called for a special election. The Chief Justice immediately put in a 72 hour stay in order to determine whether a special election was constitutional.

The Court held a meeting and rendered the special election unconstitutional, which is not a decision within the scope of authority of the student court. As a result, the Elections Board maintained that there sole interest was to protect the integrity of student government and the election and determined that since the court had rendered a decision outside of the scope of their authority, that they would continue with the Special Election.

UP: How do you think the special election should run? Is it going the way you’d want?

The special election is currently running in accordance with the elections statutes which is how I would like it ran.

UP: Have you personally advised Chief Justice Isaiah Moriarity about the legality of the special election?

I have had a number of discussions with the Chief Justice about the special elections and have advised him to the best of my ability.

UP: Have any of the candidates come to you for advice about the special election?

No candidates have come to me for advice about the special elections. I have been asked by many students about the statutes of the current elections process. However, my role as Director of SAI requires me to maintain neutrality throughout this process.

UP: How will this affect future SG outcomes?

I think all students involved would agree that our current Student Government statutes need to be updated and as a result, will work to improving the statutes for the future.

UP: Is there anything you’d like the student body to know?

I would like the student body to know that all parties involved believe that they are doing what is in the best interest of the student body. I hope that all students involved grow personally and professionally as a result of this process.

Alexander Rodriguez is the news editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet @AARodriguezz93.

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