13 DSG candidates disqualified

Since campaigning for the second round of Duke Student Government elections began last week, campus has seen an increase in flyers and Facebook groups advertising students seeking Senate, vice presidential or class positions.

But some of those campaigners can no longer run for office.

In a meeting Friday, the DSG Judiciary ruled an extension of the campaign packet deadline unconstitutional. The campaign packets, which qualify students to run for positions, were initially due April 2 at 5 p.m., but DSG Attorney General Var Shankar, a senior, extended the deadline to April 7 at 5 p.m. Students who submitted campaign applications after the initial deadline are now disqualified.

“The attorney general is provided the right to set the original deadline; however, creating a new deadline after the initial deadline passes is not an explicit constitutional right of the attorney general,” the Judiciary’s majority opinion reads. “Further, this action in effect changes the start of the campaigning process, a change that can only be made by the Election Commission, as stated in the constitution.”

Shankar said a majority of the Election Commission and a majority of the Cabinet supported the change in election policy. He added that Chief of Staff Mike Lefevre, a junior, approached Shankar April 5 requesting the extension because the initial deadline fell in the midst of the NCAA Final Four weekend and because the applications were only e-mailed to the student body Feb. 23. Lefevre is the DSG president-elect.

The ruling affected 13 students whose campaigns are now canceled. Of the four vice presidential positions, only the position of vice president for Durham and regional affairs is now contested. Before the ruling, three of the vice presidential positions were contested. In addition, 11 other Senate or class council races are uncontested.

Junior Ben Bergmann, an athletics and campus services senator who is running for re-election, was one of four campaigners who filed a complaint with the Judiciary. Bergmann said he thought the deadline extension was an attempt to let certain people who had not submitted campaign packets run.

“One of my concerns was that the extension was in part an attempt to counteract the potential influence of certain people in DSG with preferred candidates,” Bergmann said, adding that Lefevre and President Awa Nur, a senior, influenced Shankar’s extension. “They looked at who was running three days after the fact and they weren’t happy with it.”

Nur rejected that she or Lefevre had any biased interest in changing the policy. She said many of the complainants noted that she had issued an executive order—which she did not—and several people made ethical arguments against the extension at the hearing. When she was allowed to speak, however, Nur said the Judiciary did not allow her to respond to the ethical arguments.

“I am of the utmost belief that nothing unethical was done here,” Nur said.

Chief Justice Matt Straus, a sophomore, said the Judiciary “continually reminded” all people present at the hearing that the constitutionality of the action was in question, not the ethics.

Lefevre said he and Nur did not spend much time looking at the actual candidates before suggesting that the deadline be extended.

“It was far from being something that was motivated,” Lefevre said, adding that he was mainly concerned about the lack of publicity. He said the Senate race was “overshadowed” by the presidential and executive vice president campaigns the week before.

What made the decision worse, Nur said, was that it occurred after campaigning had begun, adding that she asked Straus to convene the Judiciary before campaigning began.

“I have a huge problem with their lack of respect for the candidates.... They had a great deal of leeway in terms of what kind of effect they had on the candidates” Nur said. “Their rulings are sloppy at best, unethical at worst.”

Before the extension, Bergmann and junior Joseph Catapano, who was running for academic affairs senator, were running unopposed. Junior Justin Robinette, who also filed a complaint, was running unopposed for a student affairs senator position. Although Robinette later withdrew his complaint, he did speak on behalf of the complainants at the hearing, Straus said. Freshman Kenny Gould, who is running for a contested academic affairs senate seat, also filed a complaint.

Eight of the 13 students whose campaigns were canceled filed a suit against the Judiciary’s ruling in an April 10 e-mail to Straus.

“Though we were not accused, we were affected the most by the result of the ruling,” the e-mail reads. “We believe this ruling has been applied retroactively. Granted that the action was unconstitutional, the ruling should only apply to future elections and not the current election which had already been underway.”

Straus notified the complainants Sunday morning that their case was dropped because it was an appeal of the case that the Judiciary had ruled on Friday. Straus added that the Senate should review the election policy because it “could use some specifications.”

“I am very sorry that this happened to the 13 of them, I can’t image what that feels like,” Straus said in an interview. “We understand what an investment those people had. I wish I could notify them that this was not done to them, it was a decision we had to make.”

Straus said he invited “a whole slew” of DSG executive members via e-mail, adding that candidates affected by the decision could have attended the hearing, although he did not explicitly invite them. But junior Julia Duzon, whose campaign for senior class president was canceled, said she was frustrated she did not hear about the hearing.

“We were never even told that there was going to be a hearing,” Duzon said. “We never heard that there was a suit until the decision. We were the only ones that were affected by it, we should have been invited.”

Duzon said she was not able to hand in her campaign package before the original deadline because of the minimal amount of advertising for the positions. Although she said she had planned a year in advance to run for the position, she said she only remembered to apply when she received Lefevre’s April 5 e-mail to the student body announcing the extension.

Lefevre said the Senate will need to clarify its election procedures and increase advertising of positions in the upcoming year.

“It’s sort of a strange precedent that they have set—in order for it to be allowed it has to be in the constitution, and that’s kind of ridiculous,” said Lefevre, who added that many of the things DSG does are not explicitly included in the constitution. “There are all kinds of things we need to clarify.”


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