CSJ rules GroupMe posts do not warrant major violation in LSA SG election

Wednesday, April 29, 2020 - 5:23pm

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Courtesy of Selena Bazzi, and Josiah Walker.

The Central Student Judiciary affirmed the decision of Tyler Ziel, LSA senior and LSA SG elections director, on two GroupMe messages sent during the voting period that could have disqualified LSA juniors Selena Bazzi and Josiah Walker’s ticket from the election in a ruling released Wednesday. 

Ziel ruled the messages were minor violations of the election code, which would warrant two demerits total.

Bazzi and Walker, who ran for president and vice president, respectively, won the April 1-2 online election with a margin of more than 100 votes, according to an uncertified copy of the results provided to The Daily by Ziel. The unofficial results of the election could not be certified until CSJ ruled on Schuler’s appeal, meaning neither ticket could take office.

LSA junior Jordan Schuler, who ran for president with LSA junior Sai Pamidighantam as vice president, filed an appeal with CSJ April 10 arguing that Bazzi and Walker should have received major violations for each of the positions.

Had CSJ ruled major violations were warranted for each of Bazzi’s posts, her ticket would have received six demerits instead of two, putting her and Walker over the four-demerit threshold for disqualification.

In the opinion, CSJ argued it is within the elections director’s power to make this decision. As long as Ziel believed an adjustment was appropriate, the opinion reads, the election code allows Ziel to downgrade the violations from major to minor. 

The majority opinion was signed by CSJ justices Alex Folkerth, Law student; Julia Ebben, LSA junior; and CSJ chief justice Henry Zurn, Law student.

The opinion also noted the ambiguity of LSA SG’s election code. CSJ wrote that because demerits have no impact on the election unless a candidate reaches four and is disqualified, a penalty must either be “nonexistent or extreme” given the current rules.

Additionally, the opinion noted the importance of having clear regulations so the discretion to interpret rules that could impact the outcome of an election is not left to one person. The opinion argued that it is unrealistic to assume Bazzi’s posts changed the outcome of the election.

“Even considering all of the facts in the light most generous to the Schuler campaign, the record in this case does not portray an election that has lost its democratic quality,” the opinion read. “In fact, it’s difficult to imagine an outcome more damaging to the integrity of the election than four students, unelected to their positions as Justices of the Central Student Judiciary, reversing the result by overturning the decision of the LSA student official whom the LSA Election Code empowers to safeguard the LSA elections process.”

In the other opinion, in part concurring and in part dissenting, CSJ justice Braden Crimmins, Engineering sophomore, wrote that he would have sent the original ruling back to Ziel for further consideration. He agreed Bazzi’s posts were major violations and it was within the elections director’s power to mitigate the punishment. Crimmins shared concerns that the power of elections directors is too broadly defined currently.

Schuler argued in the appeal that not awarding major violations for the posts could set a dangerous precedent and send a signal to future candidates that they can violate the election code and not face punishment. Schuler and Pamidighantam did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment at the time of publication.

In a previous interview with The Daily, Bazzi and Walker said their platform is focused on creating a more affordable university through resources such as free test prep and cheaper textbook costs. The pair said their goal is for finances not to be a barrier for students.

Bazzi wrote in an email to The Daily she and Walker would not comment until the results were certified. 

Daily News Editor Alex Harring can be reached at harring@umich.edu.