Campaign considers filing lawsuit, cites breach of first amendment

Jody Serrano

Former presidential candidate Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara said they may file a lawsuit against UT as a last resort to get back on the campus-wide elections ballot.

They claim the Election Code rules the Election Supervisory Board and Student Government Judicial Court used to disqualify them violated their constitutional rights.

Campaign manager Alexander Jones said Gardner and Guevara will explore various plans of action within the Office of the Dean of Students and other entities this week before the elections to try and get Gardner and Guevara back on the ballot. The Judicial Court denied Gardner and Guevara’s second appeal of the Election Supervisory Board’s disqualification Sunday and issued a separate disqualification punishment to signify their agreement with the Board’s decision. The Board disqualified the Gardner campaign on Feb. 22 for associating itself with Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley via promotional materials for their campaign.

Jones said they may file a case with the Travis County Court because the Election Code provision banning any association between candidates violates their first amendment right to associate with anyone they choose. He said Travis County has intervened in SG elections in the past, citing the 1997 case of vice presidential candidate Marc Levin. Levin took the charges up with Travis County and the judge ordered UT to postpone the elections and after review put Levin back on the ballot.

Jones also said in the 2008 changes to the Election Code there was specific language that classified an association between candidates as any official campaign title, banner or acronym to classify two or more candidates to run as a “ticket.” SG ratified the Election Code in 2008 to ban the ticket system, in which candidates could endorse one another and run together under one name.

“We believe that there needs to be a review of the decision and that precedent needs to be followed,” Jones said. “Based on the precedents, there is no reason they should have ever been disqualified.”

Jones said the Gardner campaign understood it could not associate with other SG candidates, but Kelley is a candidate for a position with University Unions. He said that was never made clear to them in any meeting with SG officials or the Board. He said the campaign did have the right to appeal because the Board did not interpret the Election Code as the original authors intended.

Rachel Meyerson, former College of Liberal Arts representative and educational psychology graduate student, co-authored the legislation defining candidate associations in 2008 and said she felt Gardner and Guevara did have the right to appeal and the Election Code was not interpreted as they originally intended.

“Our intent was to make sure candidates were not running under one large banner,” she said. “[Madison and Antonio] were not running under one large banner. I am confused as to why the Board would disqualify them because it does not seem to be in violation of what we wrote.”

In their second appeal to the court, the Gardner campaign affirmed chair Eric Nimmer allegedly consulted with College of Liberal Arts representative Philip Wiseman on the Board’s decision. They also claimed the Board failed to maintain objectivity because of Nimmer’s personal bias and that he has an improper influence on the Board because he helped author the current Election Code and serves on the Board as well as the Judicial Court.

The Gardner campaign submitted audio evidence of Nimmer talking to Wiseman and discussing the decision after it had been made. When Wiseman asked if there was going to be any more disqualifications, Nimmer said, “Well, let someone piss me off.”

Nimmer did not deny that he said that, but said it was taken out of context. He said he never spoke to Wiseman or anyone before the decision was made and gave the Board official opinion to people who asked for it afterwards because it was public information.

“The idea of me being out to get people and me having the power to do so is completely comical,” Nimmer said. “I am on the record as not wanting to disqualify people because I want students to be able to vote.”

Nimmer said he still believes the board’s ruling is sound.

Printed on Monday, February 27, 2012 as: Campaign may file lawsuit, cites first amendment