Although the Student Government Association (SGA) Spring elections normally go off without a hitch, this year’s races were riddled with an unprecedented amount of controversy. The SGA presidential election, which saw Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C) prevail with 76.54 percent of the vote to opponent Elias Neibart’s (20C) 23.46 percent in a run-off election, proceeded several complaints against Ma and his primary opponent Mario Karras (17Ox, 19B); the discovery of Neibart’s 2015 comments against same-sex marriage, which he later retracted; and a petition that garnered more than 300 signatures calling for the recall of the race. Additionally, a change in the voting system proved glitchy and prevented some students from voting for representatives from their year.
Elections Board Dismisses Electoral Misconduct Charges Against Ma, Karras
The Elections Board held a hearing on March 30 after two students told the Elections Board that Ma was trying to obtain votes in exchange for purchasing alcoholic drinks at Maggie’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill. Two other students accused Ma of offering executive positions to receive votes. In response, Ma filed a challenge against Karras for colluding with the challengers and creating “fake stories” about him.
Ma and Karras were acquitted of all electoral misconduct charges in 5-0 decisions by the Elections Board on March 30, according to Chair of the Elections Board Betty Zhang (20C).
Zhang told the Wheel that the students who filed the complaints may have done so based on “misunderstandings.”
The charges were dropped “to keep the candidate pool diverse and allow those who are qualified to be able to demonstrate what they can do for the Emory community,” Zhang wrote in a March 31 email to the Wheel.
Ma eventually emerged victorious in a run-off election that ended on April 2.
When the Wheel asked Ma how he felt about his challenge against Karras being dismissed, he said that the challenge was only based on “suspicions.”
During the hearing, Ma said that he only spent $25 on drinks for friends and showed a receipt indicating that he purchased three beers and one pitcher on the night of March 23. Ma also presented a video of Maggie’s co-owner Ivan Faulkenberry who testified on camera that $25 is a low tab for most Emory students and would not be enough to win votes.
Ma did not provide evidence for his challenge against Karras except by noting that two of the four challengers are Karras’ friends. Karras said that he did not create any fake stories about Ma, but he had directed students who told him about Ma’s alleged misconduct to the Elections Board.
Neibart Retracts Comments Against Same-Sex Marriage After Backlash
After backlash from Emory students, Neibart said that he “disavows” comments he made on Facebook in 2015 against same-sex marriage.
“[Same-sex] marriage normalizes a relationship that is antithetical to the true prospering and flourishing of children. Children deserve a mother and father,” Neibart wrote on June 26, 2015, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. “It opens the door to a widening definition of marriage that will eventually collapse the institution on itself.”
A screenshot depicting Neibart’s 2015 comments was shared by Emory students on Facebook on March 29. Neibart recanted his comments that same evening in a statement on his personal Facebook profile. The comments had been deleted prior to the screenshot circulating
“The comments I made to this person are not a reflection of my views on same sex marriage,” Neibart wrote. “I value and support that in our country, all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are allowed to wed, raise children, and love each other.”
“At the time, I was old enough to know better and I should have known better, but I did not,” Neibart added. “Now, I can say without reservation that I was wrong and naive.”
Neibart said he would work to be an “ally and a resource” for the LGBT community at Emory if elected SGA president.
“As your current attorney general and SGA Presidential candiate [sic], I have striven and will strive to make Emory a more inclusive environment for LGBT+ students,” Neibart wrote. “I will ensure that the LGBT+ community receives the same institutional resources and support that any other community on campus receives.”
Neibart received 791 votes, or 33.42 percent of the vote, in the initial voting period and 423 votes, or 23.46 percent, in the run-off against Ma.
Petition Requests Recall of SGA Elections, Elections Code Amendments
Angela Jiang (19C) created an online petition to the Constitutional Council that requests a recall of the Spring 2018 undergraduate elections and amendments to the Elections Code. The petition has been signed by more than 327 people as of Tuesday night.
Jiang said she created the petition on Friday after reading a Wheel article describing allegations of electoral misconduct against Ma and Karras. In the petition Jiang expressed concerns about the Elections Board’s unprofessionalism and “lack of public statements” in handling the cases. The Elections Board cleared Ma and Karras of the electoral misconduct allegations on Friday.
The petition calls for the Constitutional Council “to recall or institute a temporary halt to the entire 2018-2019 undergraduate elections process” and create “a referendum to contest Code of Elections, Part III, Article 2 to always allow a space for ‘No Confidence’ or the option for a write-in candidate for every candidacy, regardless of the number of candidates running.” If the Constitutional Council does not fulfill those requests, the petition asks for an option for students to cancel their votes. Currently, a “no confidence” option is only included on ballots with one candidate.
Jiang told the Wheel at the April 2 SGA meeting that she has also filed a formal complaint with the Constitutional Council. Chief Justice of the Constitutional Council Talia Burstein (18C) did not confirm the complaint has been filed as of Tuesday night.
The Elections Board was not aware of the petition until attendees of the Elections Board’s March 30 hearing for Ma and Karras brought it to the Board’s attention. Facing pressure from the petition and students at the hearing, the Elections Board announced after polls closed at 8 p.m. on Friday that the SGA president race results were invalid and there would be a re-vote. The Board reversed its decision about four hours later after SGA Speaker of the Legislature and Senior Representative William Palmer (18C) contacted Elections Board Chair Betty Zhang (20C) and said that re-votes are not permitted without SGA’s permission and are granted only in extreme circumstances.
Students Vote Based on Official Status, Not Entry Year
When students received their ballot from Zhang, many were surprised to see that they were unable to vote for the legislator representing the graduating class they considered themselves to be a part of.
Students were only eligible to vote for candidates who represented their official grade status, which is calculated by the number of credit hours students have completed. For example, juniors who have senior standing but will not graduate this Spring were not able to vote. Students who completed more credit hours than required for their grade could not vote for representatives for their grade, according to Zhang in a March 28 email to all students, sent out one day after voting opened.
“Voter eligibility by this status does not violate any university rules or documents in place. Therefore, voting will proceed as usual,” the statement read. “For future references, the Board will work on improving communication with the university and seeking a long-term solution to this issue, including the possibility of moving elections to a new platform if needed.”
Zhang blamed the technical problems on OrgSync, which was used for voting for the first time this year, in a March 30 Constitutional Council hearing regarding the candidacy of incoming College Council (CC) President Radhika Kadakia (20C) .
“I see a lot of underlying problems that have surfaced during this election. The main origin of all these issues was because we now moved the elections over to OrgSync,” Zhang said at the hearing. “For future elections, I think the most important thing is for a more detailed and collaborative effort between me, SGA, CC and the Student Involvement, Leadership and Transition (SILT) office who deals with managing all technical efforts of the platform.”
Director of SILT Lisa Loveall did not respond to request for comment by publication time.