Teresa Schuster & Valentina Palm/PantherNOW Staff
Lying, voter suppression and biased rulings. These are only some accusations hurled by candidates and students during this year’s Modesto Maidique Campus Student Government Council elections.
A total of 11 election violation cases were decided between April 1 and today, April 13, nine by the SGC-MMC elections board and two by the SGC-MMC supreme court.
The cases resulted in candidate disqualifications and campaign suspensions, leaving students doubtful about the election’s validity.
The elections board released the decisions to all cases through Instagram posts during the two days of elections, April 7 and 8. As a result, students and candidates were uninformed of decisions taken by the board and Supreme Court as they voted online due to Coronavirus quarantine.
Students commented on the posts, expressing their frustrations with the information delay.
“How was an executive ticket disqualified on April 1st (according to this graphic) and voters were only informed of it now, *during the election*, quite literally while people are casting their votes? How does this NOT throw the results into question?,” asked user @alestudents.
Others, criticized the election board’s lack of communication with the student body.
“We need answers,” commented user @javellanas. “Also, I’m seeing this after I just submitted my online ballot. Shouldn’t this have been emailed out to the student list so we know before voting?.”
Candidates, students, and current SGA officials were all subjects in cases. Offenses ranged from using a campaign pin on a backpack during an SGC-MMC senate meeting, to creating fundraising pages before allowed.
Rose Ingraham and Molly Schantz, both on the Roar! the party’s executive ticket, were disqualified the night before elections for fundraising before registering their party. The elections board waited almost a day into elections to notify the student body of the decision, through an Instagram post.
Despite being disqualified, Ingraham and Schantz remained on the ballot, both days of elections. They appealed the case and their disqualification was overturned on April 16.
Tatiana Arevalo, the SGC-MMC elections commissioner, said the elections board waited a day to post the decisions on Instagram because it wanted to have all cases filed resolved.
Arevalo also said the elections board couldn’t notify the student body through email because it did not have an email list of voters and wanted to avoid overwhelming students with election emails.
“Students were sent emails by various offices/FIU divisions while voting and we did not want to spam their emails,” said Arevalo.
The majority of the cases were filed by Alexandra Valdes, the presidential candidate for The Future Is You party. Senators Elisabeth Nylander and Fiorella Biagioni also filed cases against the Roar! candidates, totaling 8 cases filed by The Future is You
Candidates from Roar! didn’t file any cases, but students Alexander Anacki, called a “known affiliate” of the party, and Veronica Carbonell filed two cases each.
Valdes said she submitted the violations to ensure elections were “free and equitable.”
“I wanted to show students that The Future is You party plays by the rules and show my team that I don’t need someone else to submit these for me,” said Valdes. “[Roar!] didn’t file any violations against us because there weren’t any to file.”
Some students said Valdes filed the cases to prevent the Roar! party and its candidates from campaigning.
“Through my friends—the candidates— becoming victim to political party games on a university level, I felt the need to stand my ground and found multiple ethical concerns in this year’s elections that likely skewed the vote itself,” said Mia Cleary, a student close to Schantz, the Roar! party’s vice-presidential candidate.
Cleary and other students raised concerns about the timing of Valdes’s cases with some filed days before elections about violations that had taken place months ago.
Cleary said some were “strategically submitted” a mere 6 days before elections.
Valdes said “a lot of information…came to light” the week before elections, and she filed the cases then.
Students and candidates accused the Supreme Court and Elections Board of bias, inconsistently interpreting legislation, and penalizing candidates unequally for similar offenses.
Ingraham, the Roar!’s party leader, said the supreme court violated her rights as a candidate as well as a student by failing to notify her of cases against her, not allowing others implicated in the case to testify, and trying her a second time for the same offense.
Anacki said the elections board issued “deliberately misleading” justifications for some of its rulings.
Arevalo said she couldn’t yet clarify election board rulings, or the rules on digital campaigning vaguely described in the elections code, when asked by PantherNow.
In Jourdan Le’s case, the elections board decided Le, a senate candidate from Roar!, violated the elections code by not gaining approval from the board for a social media post, banning her from campaigning for 48 hours.
In Elisabeth Nylander’s case, the board initially ruled she and The Future Is You needed approval for an Instagram post, banning her and her party from campaigning during the rest of the election.
A few hours later, the board revoked its ruling, stating it did not have authority to approve social media posts, contradicting their previous decision.
“We always asked for approval because that was what we were told we had to do,” said Valdes. “Amidst the middle of elections and voting we were told that was not the case,”
Arevalo did not justify the decision made by the elections board after multiple requests from PantherNOW.
Here’s how it all happened.
Everything started eight days before election day on April 1, when Alexandra Valdes filed a case against Hiba Khalil, the Roar!’s engineering campus senate candidate. Valdes stated Khalil wore a pin promoting her campaign inside the SGC-MMC senate chambers on March 9, almost a month earlier.
“We had informed [the] Elections Commissioner when [Khalil] was wearing the pin and no repercussions were taken,” Valdes said, when asked why she delayed filing the case. “Once I read the elections code and realized it was a violation, I decided to file the writ.”
In the case, Valdes wrote Khalil was “using her position in SGA as an advantage,” and recommended she be disqualified from the election.
Khalil said the incident occured before Senate was in session, she forgot about the pin fixed to her backpack, and she removed it “immediately” after being asked. Valdes confirmed Khalil removed the pin once asked to so in her testimony during the case´s hearing.
After hearing testimony from multiple witnesses, including Khalil herself, the elections board charged Khalil with improper disposal of campaign materials, deeming she did not intend to violate the elections code. Khalil was banned from campaigning for 24 hours.
Khalil later told PantherNOW another candidate told senators about their campaigns inside senate chambers, but a case was never filed against that candidate.
“We committed the same violation,” Khalil said, mentioning the only difference was the other candidate ran as an independent.
Valdes maintained she did not file the writ for political reasons.
“If any other candidate had worn a pin into senate and we had seen it there would have been a writ filed for them as well, regardless of the political party,” said Valdes. “It taints not only the elections process but SGA as a whole and that’s something I won’t stand idly by and allow.”
On April 2, Valdes filed another case with the elections board, this time against Jourdan (Ha) Le, the Roar!´s SIPA senate candidate. Valdes said Le misused her position as Vice President of the Pi Sigma Alpha political science honor society by posting a flyer on the society’s Instagram about an elections information session she intended to hold. Valdes alleged since the post claimed to be non-partisan, but only tagged Le and the Roar! party, it was a violation of the elections code.
Le said she was not a member or Vice President of the honor society, she and Roar! were not involved in the flyer´s creation or post, and the honor society’s leadership misunderstood what constituted a non-partisan post.
Valdes later said she had incorrectly identified Le’s affiliation, but that this did not affect the elections board’s ruling.
Le also argued the flyer should not be considered campaign material, since it did not mention her candidacy or advocate for the Roar! party.
The elections board decided Le violated the elections code because the flyer was not approved by the board and she reposted it. Since Le also had not informed the elections board of the event, she was banned from campaigning for 48 hours.
The elections board decided the 48 hour ban would occur during the two days of elections, as they “felt…[it would] have the most effect.”
A second charge was brought against Le on April 6, after she contacted the honor society´s president, Casey Amaya, about the post that violated the elections code. Fiorella Biagioni, the The Future Is You SIPA senate candidate who filed the case, alleged Le disparaged The Future Is You party in her text message to Amaya.
“Hey Casey! I’m emailing elections and if you don’t mind, I’ll Cc it to you. Because the other party is accusing us of manipulating organizations to post on our behalf and this is very not true[…],” Le wrote to Amaya.
For Biagioni, Le’s message intended to defame The Future Is You.
“[Le] is essentially lying to this [honor society] and making it seem like The Future Is You is the bad guy when she was the one who broke the rules,” Biagioni wrote in the case.
The elections board ruled that “despite underlying intentions, [Le’s] utilization of the word ‘manipulating’ is a clear case of disparaging another party.”
Le later told PantherNOW the elections board’s ruling was unfair.
“I was not given the chance, even when I requested, to explain my intention in using the word ‘manipulating’,” Le said. “The word ‘manipulating’ was clearly used towards me and not the other party. I used [it] to convey the idea that I was accused by the other party for using my power to influence an organization, which is de facto the charge that was made against me initially.”
Le also said the elections board did not consider she is not a native English speaker and may have made a “partial glitch” in the language of the message.
“The injustice of this court induces fear and a sense of xenophobia which should not occur in any kind of educational setting,” Le said.
Le appealed the case to the supreme court, which unanimously voted to hear it.
Biagioni did not respond to PantherNOW’s request for comment.
Tensions escalated when on April 2, Valdes, the leader of The Future Is You party, filed a complaint with the Elections Board against the Roar! party.
Valdes accused the party of violating campaign regulations by fundraising in December through a GoFundMe page, before campaigning was allowed and the Roar! party was officially registered in February.
“We basically caught them cheating,” Valdes said. “That’s all that there is. There’s nothing more to it.”
Ingraham later told PantherNOW this statement was “inaccurate” and “hateful.”
“Integrity would normally stop someone from spreading untrue statements about someone else,” said Ingraham.
She said the page was not accessible until the elections board approved it on January 6, comparing it to The Future Is You’s Instagram account, which was created for last year’s campaign and reactivated this year.
“Having an inactive account is the same thing as not having the account at all,” said Ingraham. “I was the only person in the world who could see it.”
Valdes said there was no proof Ingraham’s account was inactive, and Ingraham’s statement was defamatory against her and her party.
“One’s integrity should stop people from cheating,” said Valdes.
On April 2, Valdes filed a similar complaint with the Supreme Court accusing Ingraham, Schantz, and Roar! campaign manager Angel Algarin, violated the campaign regulations with their GoFundMe fundraising.
“They were very similar cases but ultimately very different,” Valdes said. “As soon as I found out about this information I wanted to make sure proper action was taken as soon as possible which is why both were filed on the same day.”
The elections board voted to hear the case filed with them, ultimately deciding on a 72-hour campaigning ban for the party. The board said dismantling the party would be unfair to candidates unaware of the incident.
Ingraham told PantherNow she didn’t want to comment on the elections board’s decision, as she did not intend to appeal it.
“I have absolutely nothing wrong with the elections board and the way they acted at all,” Ingraham said. “I have my personal grievances with the decision itself…but it’s said and done.”
That same day, the Supreme Court ruled Ingraham, Schantz, and Algarin were guilty of an election violation and therefore, disqualified from the election. The court issued the decision four days later, on the night of April 6, just hours before voting began.
Ingraham appealed the decision the next day, arguing the court did not follow proper procedure. Her appeal was later granted.
“[The Elections Board’s case] was already deliberated, decided, and released before judicial filed their decision,” Ingraham said. “Which is double jeopardy, because we were tried twice.”
The Elections Board, not the Supreme Court, has authority to hear elections violation cases, according to Ingraham.
The SGC-MMC constitution states in article 5.01(b) the Supreme Court has the power to decide petitions submitted to it for legal review or grievances against SGC-MMC officials or entities.
Ingraham also stated in the appeal that she, Schantz, and Algarin had the right to testify, and should have been notified of the deliberations in advance.
“We should have been told, we’re going to have this trial, we’re going to have this hearing,” said Ingraham to PantherNOW. “We were not even given notification that this was filed to the judicial branch. Never.”
Natalie De La Osa, SGC-MMC chief justice said the notification requirement only applies to cases regarding current SGA officials. However, Ingraham, Schantz, and Algarin were charged as candidates, not as officials.
“She doesn’t have to get a formal notification from me,” said De La Osa. “That has never been the procedure in past years of SGA.”
Ingraham disagrees with De La Osa’s interpretation.
Even if De La Osa’s interpretation is correct, all students have a right to due process under the FIU Student Handbook, and her right was violated, Ingraham wrote in the appeal
De La Osa said while deliberations cannot be open to the public and do not normally include testimony, she allowed Ingraham to make a statement during them.
“In past cases I’ve never allowed [that],” De La Osa said. “I just did that because I [knew] this was going to be a very serious case and I wanted people to know exactly what was going on.”
Ingraham was notified via text message of the deliberations minutes before she gave her statement, which she said did not give her enough time to prepare.
“I was looking up evidence in my Gmail during the deliberations because I wasn’t prepared to send it,” she said. “This was not proper notice.”
The court decided the case later that same day, on April 2.
Supreme Court decisions become law once the involved candidates are notified, according to De La Osa.
The court waited four days.
Ingraham, Schantz, Algarin, and Valdes were notified of the decision at around 6:30 p.m. on April 6 per an email provided to PantherNOW.
Ingraham said this was a “minor detail.”
“The issue with due process is she did not notify us about the hearing to begin with or that the writ was filed against us,” Ingraham said.
Ingraham appealed the decision on April 7 to Elizabeth Bejar, the Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs.
“At this point it doesn’t matter what [De La Osa] says. It doesn’t matter what I say. It’s in Dr. Bejar’s hands now,” Ingraham said.
Bejar overturned the court’s ruling on April 16, writing that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
“It is clear the student body vested specific authority to the Elections Board to initially hear alleged violations of the elections code,” wrote Bejar. “As the court did not have jurisdiction to hear this matter, all other concerns raised in the appeal…do not need to be further considered.“
Six more writs were filed during the two days of elections.
On April 7th, Alexander Anacki, an FIU housing student unaffiliated with either party or SGA, filed a complaint to the SGC-MMC elections board against The Future Is You party and candidate Elisabeth Nylander. He accused both of practicing voter suppression tactics.
Nylander, a candidate for housing senator, posted on her Instagram account housing students should wait to vote, as there was a voting system glitch. The Future Is You shared her post on their account.
Due to the coronavirus, FIU asked all housing students to check out early and leave campus last month. Because the University’s system no longer recognizes them as living in housing, they were unable to vote for housing senator candidates.
“[Nylander] did not post a campaign flyer and was acting as a Senator informing her constituents of the situation at hand,” Valdes said. “How people try and manipulate that into something else is simply disappointing.”
The case was decided during the first day of elections. The elections board banned Nylander and The Future Is You party from campaigning for 24 hours for not obtaining approval for the post.
The ban extended throughout the remainder of the elections but The Future Is You party posted multiple times that day about the election.
Valdes told PantherNOW she was aware of the decision, but that it was not official since the elections board had not officially notified her of it. Valdes later said she was never notified of the decision by the board.
Arevalo, who was absent for the board’s initial decision, said an elections board decision is official the moment the board votes on it in an email to PantherNOW.
“Candidates for this election were notified of the decision if they were the claimant or defendant,” Arevalo said.
Valdes said otherwise.
“The elections board message has always been that the decision is not in effect until an official email is sent,” said Valdes.
PantherNOW reached out to Arevalo for clarification, but she has not responded as of the time of publication.
Nylander declined to comment on the situation.
Shortly after the elections board’s decision, Anacki filed another complaint against The Future Is You party following its posts on social media. He alleged Valdes and Nylander were violating the order for being aware of the decision and continuing to campaign.
“I think that The Future is You party is rapidly sending out communication to people because Elisabeth [Nylander] informed them that there was a [ban] coming,” said Anacki. “I believe that is the reason they are posting so much right now.”
Hours after their decision, the elections board reversed the ban imposed on The Future is You party.
Arevalo said the elections board’s justification for the reversal awaits their adviser’s approval, and the elections board will not release a statement regarding the case until then.
According to the elections board’s official decision to revoke the ruling, they determined they did not have the authority to review candidates’ social media posts.
“I think it’s remarkably conspicuous that they only made this decision – that they had to reconsider everything and all of the knowledge they had – after [Arevalo] was back in the room, and that they had so completely misunderstood the elections code before that,” Anacki said. “I think it’s deliberately misleading.”
Anacki also raised doubts about the elections board’s impartiality.
“I think that there have been decisions made earlier this year that have been biased against certain parties,” said Anacki. “Once The Future Is You party had an elections violation against them, it’s interesting how quickly the board moved to take their side.”
Valdes called Anacki’s statement false and defamatory.
“No member of The Future is You has committed any action that could be even construed in that manner,” Valdes said, defending the elections board’s decision.
“The Elections Board and the Supreme Court have been unbiased in their ruling as can be seen through their deliberations and have made every effort to support the fairness of the electoral process,” said Valdes.
Valdes also said Anacki was mistaken in defending the Roar! party, in view of his close friendship with vice-presidential candidate Molly Schantz.
“Like any good friend he wants his friend to win, however a good friend should also be able to realize when [their] friend has done things incorrectly and has violated governing documents,” Valdez said.
The elections board voted not to hear Anacki’s second complaint at their meeting at 8 p.m. on April 8, with members saying it would not make a difference since the initial decision had been revoked and the election had just ended.
Two writs were filed during the elections board’s meeting on April 8.
Nylander filed a complaint against Ingraham, Schantz, and the Roar! Party at 8:11 p.m. Nylander alleged students not involved in SGA, but who were “known associates” of the Roar! party, continued to promote Ingraham and Schantz in class group chats.
Despite their disqualification, Ingraham and Schantz remained on the ballot as they appealed their case.
The elections board voted not to hear the case. Board members reasoned Ingraham and Schantz had already received the maximum penalty of disqualification and any further rulings made by the elections board would have no effect on election results.
Minutes after the vote, Fiorella Biagioni, a The Future Is You SIPA senate candidate, submitted a similar complaint, against Ingraham, Schantz, Le, the Roar! party, and Ryan Rodriguez, a Roar! SIPA senate candidate.
Biagioni stated in the complaint a “known associate” of the Roar! party had promoted Ingraham and Schantz’s candidacy in class group chats, alleging Rodriguez had also campaigned in class group chats. She also stated Le had campaigned after being disqualified.
Rodriguez later told PantherNOW he “did not campaign for any candidate,” including himself, in class group chats.
“Apparently, someone dropped one of my campaign flyers in what was perceived to be an academic group chat, but I never asked them to do so,” Rodriguez said.
Current SGC-MMC senate speaker David Nivia, spoke about the harm caused by bringing elections into such group chats, stating it undermined their academic nature. Biagioni echoed Nivia’s concerns when asked to elaborate her complaint during the meeting.
Mia Cleary, one of the “known associates” referenced in the case, later said she intentionally campaigned in group chats on behalf of Ingraham and Schantz, even after Schantz requested her to stop. She said the board’s decision violated her’ first amendment rights, and she continued to post to “prove that point.”
“Candidates shouldn’t be held liable for the actions of supporters and elections shouldn’t require supporters take down or limit their support as this is a direct violation of freedom of speech,” said Cleary.
Cleary also disagrees with the rule against campaigning in group chats.
“FIU should have no business in group chats that do not contain faculty unless ethical (cheating) or criminal/civil concerns are at stake,” Cleary said. “To limit political discussion/support/campaigning in class group chats that are created informally and may discuss academics but also discuss a wide range of other topics, is once again limiting speech.”
Anacki, the other “known associate,” declined to comment on the case as he did not testify at its hearing.
Cleary hopes her actions will lead to changes in future elections.
“Although I knew a new charge could be filed against my friends running (and it was by the opposite party) I was stubborn in standing my ground and playing against party politics…While I have nothing personally against the other party, I hope [Anacki] and I being vocal this year will help change faults in the system later on,” Cleary said.
Schantz confirmed to PantherNOW she asked Cleary and Anacki to stop campaigning, but couldn’t stop them.
“I did what I could to keep myself out of trouble and to keep myself from breaking any rules, but as students and voters, [Anacki and Cleary] have the right to freedom of speech and are allowed to say what they please,” said Schantz. “I believe they refused to stop campaigning for me out of support. They were being stubborn in a good way and truly just being good friends.”
The elections board voted to hear Biagioni’s case on April 9 and dismissed it following testimony from Rodriguez, Cleary, and Biagioni. The board stated Cleary and Anacki were the only ones at fault, since Schantz had requested they stop campaigning multiple times.
Ingraham declined to comment on either case.
Biagioni did not respond to PantherNOW’s request for comment.
On April 7 at about 8:45 p.m., Veronica Carbonell, a Model United Nations delegate not officially affiliated with either party or SGA, filed a complaint with the elections board against David Nivia, current SGC-MMC senate speaker and The Future Is You co-founder.
Carbonell stated Nivia posted a message on the MUN group chat earlier that day, portraying Ingraham in a negative light and discouraging the group from voting for her.
In the post Nivia titled “Food for thought”, he wrote Ingraham had emailed him as senate speaker, advocating giving MUN significantly less funding than Nivia and the rest of the SGC-MMC executive board proposed granting them. He also said Ingraham voted against passing the entire budget, which included Nivia’s proposed funding amount for MUN, when it was brought for voting in senate.
“Please stay informed when voting everyone,” Nivia wrote in the chat. “Let’s not allow bias get in the way [sic].”
Nivia, along with most of the executive board, is affiliated with The Future Is You party.
“It is always emphasized that campaigning is not allowed in group chats,” said Carbonell. “For the speaker of the senate to send something that tried to make [Ingraham] look negative was inherently campaigning against her and for [The Future Is You].”
Nivia later denied the message was intended to harm Ingraham’s reputation.
“I never spoke against a specific party or said anything that was untrue. I stated facts from a public record,” Nivia said in a statement to PantherNOW. “People are quick to make accusations and change the narrative to match their personal agenda.”
Nivia said he was disappointed about Carbonell’s decision to file the complaint.
“When you spend weeks defending an organization in budget hearings and then hear a handful of individuals in that organization speak badly about you and try to damage your reputation, that’s a hard pill to swallow,” said Nivia.
Ingraham called Nivia’s post “comical.”
“It doesn’t surprise me that [Nivia] would cherry pick information to mislead voters,” she said in a statement to PantherNOW.
Ingraham told PantherNow the SGA “systematically tolerates bullying like [Nivia’s] post.”
“I have been bullied by current officials for so long it has stopped being offensive,” said Ingraham, “Personally, I have reached a maturity level where I won’t post messages that incite negativity, but it may take others longer to get to that point. Everyone grows at their own pace,” she said.
Nivia expressed similar sentiments in his statement.
“The price of leadership is criticism,” he said. “I’ve always looked at criticism as a way to help me grow both personally and professionally.”
The elections board voted not to hear this case for lack of jurisdiction as Nivia is an SGA official not a candidate.
Carbonell filed the case with the SGC-MMC supreme court on April 8. The court unanimously ruled to hear the case two days later and held the hearing that same day.
The court dismissed the case against Nivia on April 12 with an unanimous vote ruling the MUN group chat did not qualify as an academic group chat.
Delays have been commonplace in this year’s elections. Deadlines were extended after no one signed up to run at Biscayne Bay Campus. The elections board did not release candidate information on time. Eventually, the election itself was pushed back weeks due to the Coronavirus.
Despite the numerous elections violations, delays in notifying voters, candidates currently in the appeals process, technology issues, inconsistent decisions from the elections board, and their failure to clarify the elections code to students and candidates, the elections board still planned to release the election results on Monday.
On Monday morning, they posted that results will be announced Tuesday at noon.
While students will know their new SGA representatives, they still have not been informed of many of the cases filed.
PantherNOW submitted a request to the elections board for more information regarding the cases and the recordings of the deliberations on April 8. The elections board has not yet responded.
SGC-MMC’s adviser Michelle Castro has not responded to PantherNOW as of the time of publication.
SGA election results are scheduled to be released at 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, via the “fiuelections” Instagram page.
This article will be updated with details and decisions on the cases as they are released.