Courtesy of John Dodd
Some senate candidates are facing violation complaints in the days leading up to the election. John Dodd, a senate candidate for the College of Arts and Sciences, challenged two violations from the SGA Elections Board, and he’s calling it a targeted act.
Dodd’s campaign manager, Jack Kappelman, said he believes the violations were a response to Dodd’s vocal opposition to the Machine, a not-so-secret organization that has held some level of influence over campus and local elections for more than a century.
“Since we’ve been running this vocally anti-Machine, anti-establishment campaign, we’ve really drawn the ire of the Machine establishment,” Kappelman said. “And they’re sort of trying to prevent us from continuing our campaign by slowing us down with these elections violations.”
The first violation complaint was for an endorsement of Dodd’s campaign.
Men Against Rape and Sexual Assualt (MARS), a student organization that Kappelman leads, endorsed Dodd on social media. The endorsement was voted on by MARS members. In the same post, MARS endorsed Drew St. Charles, a senate candidate for the College of Commerce and Business Administration.
Dodd reshared the endorsement from MARS on his public Instagram account, where he has been promoting his platform to the student body. In the post, Dodd thanked MARS for the endorsement but failed to re-include the disclaimer required in accordance with the Elections Manual.
The disclaimer states: “(Organization name) endorses (candidate name) for (insert position). Our members’ votes are their own and they have the right to choose whether to vote and whom to vote for. We encourage all voters to research any and all candidates and to decide for themselves.”
The Elections Manual requires this disclaimer for endorsements, but makes no mention of this same requirement applying to the resharing of an endorsement. Kappelman said he believes it is “utterly ridiculous” to consider Dodd’s post an endorsement, as he was sharing news of a student organization’s decision to endorse him.
A hearing for the first violation complaint was held on Feb. 24, and the Elections Board issued three violation points to Dodd. Candidates are considered for disqualification if they receive 12 points. Depending on the outcome of the second hearing, Kappelman said the campaign could face a blackout period in which campaigning would be prohibited.
“I don’t want them to think that me going all of the sudden silent with no explanations of a blackout period is me leaving them behind, or me being scared of the Machine, and not wanting to fight for them anymore,” Dodd said.
The second violation complaint was issued in response to a photo of Dodd and his campaign team at Denny Chimes without masks.
‘There’s nothing in the elections manual that says that that’s a violation,” Kappelman said.
The Elections Manual includes a clause that allows violation charges on the basis of the Student Code of Conduct. Kappelman said that his and Dodd’s interpretation of the rule is that violations can be made based on the Student Code of Conduct, but it is not within the Election Board’s jurisdiction to handle student conduct issues.
“They haven’t asked for any sort of documentation. And frankly, we wouldn’t provide any personal medical records, but all of the team tested negative,” Kappelman said. “So [the photo] was taken. We have multiple witnesses that can confirm this as well, but we were masked the entire time and only briefly took them off for two or three photos.”
Dodd said he believes the photo violation was a target to himself and his campaign. He said he was not the only campaign that featured a candidate on campus without a mask.
“There were a lot more concerning pictures that they could have decided to chop for a violation if they wanted to chop it up instead of ours,” Dodd said.
Potential violations can be reported by any member of the UA community through a form on the SGA website that requires self-identification. The Elections Board does not review anonymous complaints, but has not disclosed the name of the individual who reported it.
“They’re not revealing who filed, so we cannot even confirm that this isn’t targeted harassment…it’s not [the Elections Board’s] responsibility to target individual campaigns,” Kappelman said.
Without the identity of the reporter disclosed to them, Kappelman and Dodd have assumed that the Elections Board is not an impartial council.
“We want to make the point that the Elections Board is not an unbiased institution and that in fact, it is heavily backed by the Machine,” Kappelman said.
The Elections Board has 12 members who serve a year-long term. Interested students complete an application posted to the SGA website the day after the spring election. The application is available for 10 class days.
A review panel comprised of the outgoing SGA president, speaker of senate, chief
justice, executive vice president and attorney general selects six students. UA’s vice president for student life appoints another six students.
‘It just doesn’t make sense’
Dodd said he believes other senate candidates are being targeted because of their association with him. One of his friends, Malea Benjamin, a candidate in the College of Communication and Information Sciences, has coordinated with him to show support for each other’s campaigns online. Dodd said he believes Benjamin, who confirmed that she is facing possible violations, is now receiving backlash for their online campaign interactions.
Benjamin said she and her campaign team have tried to handle the situation with class, but that it is often overwhelming.
“I feel like my campaign and I have been a victim of petty acts,” Benjamin said.
She said it was discouraging to feel silenced as a candidate.
“I’m not even openly attacking SGA at all,” she said. “I never have. We want to expand diversity, but when someone different wants to run, they get harassed. It just doesn’t make sense. I thought things were better, but I was wrong.”
The seats that Dodd and Benjamin seek to fill, in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Communication and Information Sciences respectively, are two of this year’s five contested senate races.
Kappelman said he believes the Elections Board is targeting independent candidates in an attempt to silence them.
The Instagram Spat
Current SGA president Demarcus Joiner posted a string of Instagram stories on Saturday rejecting Dodd’s opinion about the SGA pay scale. Joiner has not publicly commented on the campaigns of other senate candidates.
“I just think that [Joiner’s] reaction was completely unacceptable for an acting SGA president,” Dodd said. “And completely unprofessional as well.”
Joiner said he had no intentions of attacking a candidate’s platform and only wanted students and others to understand that, at the end of the day, SGA officers are still “students serving students.”
“People think that SGA is full of wealthy people when it’s just an assumption … you never know someone’s [financial] situation,” Joiner said.
He stressed that there are other student organizations on campus that offer paid positions but do not receive the same backlash the SGA does.
The pay scale allots stipends to SGA officers to compensate for their work. Earlier this month, SGA Press Secretary Jackson Fuentes said the pay scale is intended to promote equity and to provide opportunity for all students who want to be involved in the SGA.
“SGA stipends promote equity by providing all students an opportunity to serve, some of whom might otherwise have a second or third job in addition to their SGA duties,” Fuentes said.
Joiner said he hopes to see Fields’ administration increase the pay scale, while Dodd is in favor of raising the pay for lower-level positions or abolishing the stipend altogether.
Kappelman said the payscale argument highlights a much larger problem.
“The thing that worries me is that John is going to face the same backlash that I did,” said Kappelman, who previously served as a senator in the College of Arts and Sciences. “They are just pretty, ridiculously out of touch. And any sort of criticism, even if it’s constructive… is just taken as character attacks on them.”
The Elections Board did not reply to a request for comment in time for publication.