Board upholds Bhandari-Scott disqualification, strongly recommends updated election code rules, committee director resigns

Cassandra Jaramillo

After a nearly four-hour process, the Election Oversight Board, which is the appellate court in the Graduate Student Assembly, unanimously disqualified Sahil Bhandari and Michael Scott from the GSA elections on Friday. The board also called for updates and clarifications to be made in the campus-wide election code.

Bhandari submitted his appeal last week to the appellate court, arguing that his first hearing did not follow due process rules. In the first hearing with the Election Supervisory Board, GSA President Brian Wilkey filed a complaint 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.

Bhandari said the procedures were not followed because Cattle Call event organizer Michael Barnes and worker Chloe Ireton, who were mentioned in Wilkey’s complaint, were not invited to speak at the first hearing.

“The first hearing was a thorough grilling of 50 minutes,” Bhandari said. “The procedure is not being followed. It was not being followed previously and it’s now not being followed now.”

Barnes submitted a statement through email to be read at the hearing and Ireton offered to speak at the hearing electronically; both were out of town the day of the hearing. Bhandari said it hurt his first case to not have Barnes’ statement read, but Wilkey argued election code rules call for a written affidavit and does not allow electronic correspondence.

Evan Ott, chairman of the Election Oversight Board, argued that only the direct name mentioned in the complaint must be present. 

“Campus­-Wide Election Common Code does not require all members of the responding party to be physically present during the hearing procedure, so Chloe Ireton’s inability to be present physically at the hearing was not a violation of the Election Code because Sahil Bhandari was present,” Ott wrote in his opinion.

Barnes, who also led the Legislative Affairs Committee as the director, submitted his letter of resignation following the hearing. He said he wants to take full responsibility of the GSA Cattle Call event that Wilkey described in his complaint as being biased.

“It’s a way for me to say I accept the decision,” Barnes said. “If I’m now on the record as holding a biased event, then I want to take that bias with me.”

The Election Oversight Board wrote in its opinion it strongly recommended several changes be made to the campus-wide election code. It called the code “complex and potentially confusing.”

The three-member board also wrote in its opinion that the code should be updated to define the rights afforded to those named in a complaint, have updates to details that would provide an example to each class of violation and that more information should be provided at the candidate seminar for candidates and workers.  

David Engleman, chair of the Election Supervisory Board, said that last week’s votes in the GSA election are now allowed to be certified and will be announced Monday morning.

“The opinion was obviously rather extensive,” Engleman said. “It affirmed our judgment, but it made several recommendations on election proposal. Without commenting on specific proposals, it’s a welcomed development that the GSA Election Oversight Board is making recommendations for changes in the election code.”