By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
Although next year’s executive officers are finalized, the result of a Students’ Association investigation into presidential campaign abuses this year is not.
Three of four candidates, including winner Jonathan Wilkerson, violated campaign guidelines, said election rules chair Elizabeth Alvarez, who added that candidate Shep Strong, who lost to Wilkerson in Thursday’s runoff, could be disqualified after the fact.
“It disappoints me greatly,” Alvarez said. “They were unable to follow simple rules.”
The controversy has centered on Erin Baldwin and Taylor Hemness, both having lost Tuesday and Wednesday’s election, visiting social clubs during their Wednesday night meetings and telling members to vote for Shep Strong in the runoff.
The campaigning was never brought before executive vice president Jeremy Gordon, who as chair of the elections committee must approve all campaign methods.
Alvarez said SA received complaints soon after social club meetings dismissed, and that complaints continued throughout the next day. Some said Baldwin and Hemness called Wilkerson “un-Christ-like” and “immoral.”
“I know Erin and I were accused of slandering Jonathan,” Hemness said. “My side of it is that we didn’t. I did not ever say anything against Jonathan. I did, however, say something against Jonathan’s campaign.”
The social club campaigning created such a firestorm of complaints that a special committee is being formed to investigate whether Strong should be disqualified even though he already lost the election.
That possibility is distinct if the committee finds he instructed Hemness and Baldwin to campaign for him. Strong denied doing so
“That’s their business,” he said. “I didn’t advise them to do that. I support what they did in principle; I appreciate their support.”
Hemness said he and Baldwin charged Wilkerson with running an unethical campaign. The statement was based on Wilkerson’s unapproved use Wednesday of a pickup truck with campaign flyers on it. Alvarez and Gordon disqualified 160 votes cast for Wilkerson during the time the truck sat on the mall.
In all, Wilkerson violated election rules three times, Alvarez said, while Strong violated them four times and Baldwin violated them five times. Most involved obtaining permission for the use of campaign materials.
Wilkerson said he felt disqualifying most of his Wednesday votes was inconsistent with previous actions. Baldwin and Strong both had placed non-approved campaign material on campus without penalty, he said.
“It kind of was disheartening,” Wilkerson said. “I would have thought they’d inform me right away, instead of waiting four and a half hours.” Wilkerson said he was notified that the truck was illegal at about 4 p.m.
Even with the votes, Wilkerson would not have garnered the 50 percent-plus-one needed to avoid Thursday’s runoff. He would have received 458 votes to Strong’s 174. That would only have been 48 percent of the 944 votes cast.
“[The disqualifications] cast a light,” Wilkerson said. “It was upsetting to me.”
The campaigns had been marked by illegal campaigning, beginning even before petitions for candidacy had been turned in, Gordon said.
After an investigation of classroom campaigning cleared Wilkerson of allegations leveled by Hemness in the opening days of the campaign, Baldwin, Strong and Wilkerson all failed to obtain written permission from residence hall directors to post campaign signs on and around the halls, Alvarez said.
Three of the four had several violations each.
“I chalk that up to four people who care very much about the office,” Strong said in reference to the numerous violations. “A lot of the craziness towards the end was just that’s what was going on. I was very impressed with how the candidates were able to handle themselves.”
Gordon at first took responsibility for not catching the violations.
“I apologize for all the errors and indecision,” he said in Wednesday’s SA meeting. However, in an interview Monday, Gordon placed the blame on the candidates.
“These candidates all had some sort of SA experience and campaign experience,” Gordon said. “With that comes making sure you’re getting the rules to a tee. When that doesn’t happen, that can lead to inconsistencies.”
The rules violations and chaotic end to the election process overshadowed an extremely strong voter turnout. About 950 students voted in the general election, roughly one-fourth of the undergraduate population.
The controversy also darkened overwhelming victories for Wilkerson, who took 61 percent of the vote in Thursday’s runoff, and future vice president Layne Rouse, who won nearly 70 percent of 906 votes to defeat Reese Campbell.