Impeachment, Resignations, Alleged Forgeries: Controversy surrounds 2018-19 Student Presidential Election, Election Commission

Controversy and confusion surrounding the 2018-2019 Student Government elections have led members to create a Special Election Commission Committee. Graphic by Jessica Wade & Connor Beebe/The Gateway

Jessica Wade

Cassie Wade

Several Student Government members have come forward to discuss controversies surrounding the 2018-2019 student body presidential election and the Election Commission, which oversees election proceedings.

The Election Commission is a nine-member student group responsible for a variety of tasks during Student Government elections, including implementing and enforcing election rules and determining the merit of grievances filed against candidates, according to the commission’s application form.

Election Controversy

During the 2018-2019 Student Government election season, two grievances were filed against student body president candidate Renata Valquier Chavez and her running mate, Benjamin Fountain, by fellow student body president candidate Caleb Moyer and his running mate, McKenzie Anderson.

The first grievance was filed by Anderson and related to the signatures the student body president and vice president candidates must obtain before running for office. Anderson said she decided to file the grievance because the signatures on Fountain’s application were allegedly forged.

According to Anderson, during the grievance hearing, Fountain confessed to signing people’s names on his signature sheet because he was pressed for time.

At time of press, Fountain did not respond to the Gateway’s request for comment.

Valquier Chavez told the Gateway earlier in the campaign that there was nothing in the rules explicitly stating she and her running mate were in the wrong regarding the signatures. She also said she and Fountain obtained permission to use people’s signatures on their behalf.

The Gateway could not independently confirm if the people had given permission because the Election Commission refused to release the grievances publicly.

“So long as we have consent from each individual, their name and their NUID, that works,” Valquier Chavez said. “When things start getting to a personal level, rather than just being in this organization level, it’s not okay.”

Valquier Chavez also said that clarification should be made within the election rules bylaws, so there isn’t confusion on the matter in future elections.

Anderson said that during the grievance hearing, Fountain admitted to writing people’s  signatures, but the Election Commission denied her grievance because they said she didn’t have enough evidence.

“I appealed it to student court, who then also denied my appeal regarding the signatures,” Anderson said. “If you can have signatures on your petition that were OK’d to be signed for, that’s fine, but nowhere in the rules does it say that you can sign for another person on their behalf.”  

Anderson said she didn’t file the grievance to “go after someone.”

“Rules are rules, and I believe when running for an office as high as president and vice president, they must be followed,” she said.

Anderson also said that she felt the Election Commission was unprofessional and did not follow protocol, which might have had an impact on the election results. Anderson and Moyer lost the election by 61 votes, according to the Student Government website.

“I guess the Election Commission would rather see a contested election than follow rules,” Anderson said. “It’s really opened my eyes to see just how much stuff gets brushed under the rug.”

In a group chat conversation obtained by the Gateway, the Election Commission discussed Moyer and Anderson’s decision to file grievances.

“I think they’re scared they won’t get any votes and that makes me so annoyed,” Election Commission Chairperson Monts Montero wrote in the group message.

Another commission member responded, “I think it’s pretty dang petty at this point.”

At time of press, Montero did not respond to the Gateway’s request for comment on the group message.

Invalidation of Speaker of the Senate

The signatures used by Fountain were not the only point of controversy of this year’s election season. During a Student Government meeting on March 1, one week before the election, Speaker of the Senate Luke Schnepel was put up for impeachment by a resolution written by Student Body President Carlo Eby.

The impeachment related back to Fountain’s signatures, according to information discussed at the meeting. Schnepel was accused of threatening, coercion and providing false information to Valquier Chavez and Fountain, which caused them to consider dropping out of the race.

Schnepel left the room while Eby answered questions about the impeachment criteria. Schnepel reentered and was also given the opportunity to answer questions. He left the room again while the other senators completed a secret ballot vote.

“Events that lead to the impeachment was a bylaw violation,” Eby told the Gateway via email. “The rules state that an executive board member (ie. Speaker of the Senate) cannot directly interfere with another candidate or provide them information that other candidates wouldn’t be privy to. The information that he presented was also false.”

The Gateway could not find the bylaw cited by Eby in the Student Government bylaws.

With a vote of 1 in favor of impeachment, 15 against and 3 abstained from voting, the resolution did not pass, so Schnepel was not impeached. However, on Tuesday, the day before the election, the Election Commission held a hearing to invalidate Schnepel because he had “provided false statements to a candidate.”

By invalidating a candidate, the Election Commission would prevent them from running for reelection, effectively preventing them from sitting on the Senate the following year.

During the hearing, Schnepel said he testified to the commission that during the week of Feb. 26, he was told by Eby that Eby was going to meet with the code of conduct officer to discuss whether Fountain and Valquier Chavez had committed a code of conduct violation with the signatures.

Later that day, he said he had heard from someone else who had spoken to Eby on the phone that Eby had met with Phil Covington, the code of conduct officer, who had said Fountain’s signatures were a violation. Then, Schnepel said he texted Fountain.

“I said I need to tell you something that I heard,” Schnepel said. “I told him I heard this rumor, and I told him where I heard it.”

Schnepel was accused at the commission hearing of lying because instead of telling Fountain that he had spoken with someone who had spoken with someone else directly in contact with the conduct officer, Schnepel said he had spoken with someone directly in contact with Covington. Schnepel was ultimately invalidated.

“My intention wasn’t to lie,” Schnepel said at the hearing, “and I’ve been over this with Renata and Benji [Fountain]. We’ve talked it out; we’re at an understanding. We litigated this entire issue at Student Government. They tried to have me impeached at Senate.”

Schnepel said in an interview that Eby was the only person to testify against him at the commission hearing.

“Overall, I believe that his actions were personally motivated,” Schnepel said. “That being said, Carlo and I will continue to work together in a professional capacity to do what is best for the student body.”

The Gateway contacted Eby via email for comment about the invalidation of Schnepel. Eby said that since he is not on Election Commission, he felt “that it would be inappropriate” to make a statement on the commission’s behalf.

Eby suggested reaching out to Montero, who was one of the Election Commission members mentioned in the text conversation the Gateway obtained. Montero declined to comment, redirecting the Gateway to university communications.

When asked to comment about the invalidation of Schnepel, Bari Marshall, assistant director of student involvement and the Student Government advisor said via email in a prepared statement provided by university communications:

“UNO Student Government is governed by bylaws, rules and operating procedures – including rules that guide the processing of election grievances and appeals. Student Government shares this information on its MavSYNC portal, and if any student has a question or feedback, they should contact their Student Government representative or email”

Creation of Special Election Commission Committee

Student Senator Justin Hering experienced complications of his own while campaigning after being asked to turn in expense reports. Hering said according to bylaws, expense reports technically weren’t required unless a grievance had been filed against him.

“Why was it that I knew more about election rules than the members governing the election?” Hering asked.

Student senators, including Hering, have created a Special Election Commission Committee to examine and edit the commission’s rules. Hering said that if the university is going to have fair  elections in the years to come then Student Government must start with having an educated body governing the election.

“Each student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha is unique, bright, beautiful and powerful,” Hering said. “We must create a campus that allows each and every student to reach their full potential. This starts with creating fair and equal opportunities for all.”