Election Supervisory Board disqualifies Bhandari-Scott campaign from GSA election

Cassandra Jaramillo

The University Election Supervisory Board (ESB), which supervises all campus-wide elections, ruled to disqualify Sahil Bhandari and Michael Scott from the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) election Tuesday.

GSA President Brian Wilkey filed a complaint last week against Bhandari and Scott for alleged improper use of endorsement tactics in GSA’s Longhorn Cattle Call Facebook event and violation of email rules through listserv.

Wilkey said the improper use of endorsement tactics occurred when the GSA’s Legislative Affairs Committee organized its Cattle Call event to discuss campus carry on Facebook.  An event advertisement said the event was in collaboration with UT Graduate Students Against Campus Carry, an unregistered UT organization, which had endorsed the Bhandari-Scott campaign.  

“The Legislative Affairs Committee should have never partnered with another organization,” Wilkey said. “It should not look like GSA was endorsing anyone.”

 Bhandari felt the campus carry organization endorsement did not violate election rules.

“It is not a registered student organization, so I can’t accept the endorsement,” Bhandari said. “That’s what I understood.”

Michael Barnes, Cattle Call event organizer and Legislative Affairs Committee director, said he collaborated with the group after a GSA resolution supported the organization. When a Bhandari-Scott campaign worker published a favorable post for the campaign in the Facebook event, Barnes said he removed the post as quickly as possible.

Bhandari said he had no control over the worker’s post, but ESB chair David Engleman said campaign candidates and workers are deemed equally as responsible according to election code.

Immediately after the favorable post was published, Wilkey sent the GSA listserv email to more than 5,000 students advertising the Cattle Call event. Wilkey said he was not aware of the favorable post when he sent the email linking to the Facebook group out. 

“This seems to have created an advantage to the [Bhandari-Scott] campaign,” Wilkey said in a hearing Monday.

 In his complaint, Wilkey said the event organizer should be held responsible for the communication within the Facebook event, but the ESB did not reach out to Barnes. 

“[The] complainant [Wilkey] says the people organizing the event should speak for this — that’s me,” Barnes said. “I was never invited, and I emailed the director of ESB well in advance, and I submitted a statement that could be read, and it was never read in the hearing, to my knowledge.”

The board voted unanimously to disqualify the campaign because of violations in its misleading campaign activities. Bhandari said he was disappointed in the court’s decision.

“The ESB is attempting to set a dangerous precedent by disallowing our candidature, which is the worst possible punishment,” Bhandari said.

The Bhandari-Scott campaign sent an appeal to the ESB’s ruling Tuesday. The next step is for the GSA president and vice president to convene an appellate court that would hear the appeal.

Disqualified candidates are not on the voting ballot, but there is the possibility for a re-vote depending on the outcome of the appellate court’s ruling.

“The results will not be certified and announced until the process concludes,” Engleman said. “If the ESB ruling is overturned, there would be another election including all candidates.”