SGA election: Results uncertain as court decision looms
In a Student Government Association Supreme Court hearing held Monday night, SGA President Joshua Martin, representing the For the Students party, made his formal plea before the court to overturn Students Unite’s landslide victory.
Martin built his case around the idea that last week’s issue with Get Involved disenfranchised freshmen and transfer students. However, the case’s respondent, Chief SGA Election Commissioner Tochi Okoli said the issue had nothing to do with students’ classification. Rather, it affected only those who used outside emails to set up their Get Involved accounts.
“You are assigned a uh.edu email that gives you access to secure aspects of Get Involved,” Okoli said. “If you are registered on Get Involved with credentials that are not university sponsored, you will not have access to secure University provisions such as the SGA elections.”
The reason for this added layer of security is to ensure students are able to vote only once and to ensure the election is safe from outside interference, Tochi said.
User error aside, Okoli said that in addition to Students Unite winning the election by a very wide margin, voter turnout exceeded that of the past four years, and freshmen were among the largest demographics to vote.
“There has been a wide effort to attract students to this election, which paid off because we saw a record amount of students,” Okoli said. “Freshmen were the second highest voting group in the election.”
Despite this, Martin, who presented his argument alongside UT law student Mike Chang, said the issue violated section 2.02 of the SGA Constitution, which grants all students the right to vote.
Chang, who pleaded the majority of Martin’s case, claimed that the alleged disenfranchisement of freshmen disproportionately impacted For the Students because it mitigated their advantage as the incumbent party.
“These voters shared a close and substantial relationship with the petitioner, Joshua Martin, who expressed care for incoming students through attending and speaking with them at orientation,” Chang said. “Not only did the procedure of the election disadvantage the student body at large, but the petitioner who was running in the election as well.”
As SGA president, Martin got a disproportionate amount of face time with underclassmen and transfer students through his role speaking at most new student orientations. According to Chang, the issues with Get Involved deprived Martin of a core part of his constituency.
Further, Chang said the issues constituted discrimination on the basis of academic standing.
“It is laughable that the commissioner said that this is not an issue of academic standing,” Chang said. “It is predominantly freshmen and transfer students that repeatedly reported that they could not vote.”
However, Okoli was quick to point out that academic standing refers to a student’s academic performance and is completely unrelated to both classification and the issue brought before the court.
Though a verdict has yet to be issued, Chief Justice Eddie Munoz III said students should expect to see one in the coming days. It remains unclear what the outcome will be should the court choose to overturn the election.
In her closing argument, Okoli pleaded with the justices to uphold the voice of the students.
“Yes, at the end of every election, when there is a loss, it is painful,” Okoli said. “But the beauty of the democratic process is being willing to go with whatever the students want, and what the students want, in this case, is what the students got.”