Student Court dismisses former SA presidential candidate’s request for a runoff

The Student Court unanimously dismissed a former Student Association presidential candidate’s request for a runoff election Wednesday.

Junior Hannah Edwards filed an injunction with the court earlier this month to request a runoff between herself and SA President Brandon Hill, the winner of the SA presidential election, which would halt the transition process. The court dismissed Edwards’ case with prejudice because it “fails to demonstrate any merit on its face” to advance to any further court proceedings.

The per curiae opinion states Edwards demanded a runoff because she and Hill were the only two candidates with more than 50 percent of first- and second-choice votes. But the opinion asserts that Edwards’ argument demonstrates a “gross misunderstanding” of ranked-choice voting procedures, the system through which the election was conducted.

The opinion states that Edwards is making an “apples to oranges” comparison of the candidates’ percentages of first- and second-place votes.

In ranked-choice voting, the candidate with the lowest number of first-place votes is eliminated from the race, and the other candidates move on to the next round until a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

The court decision states Edwards’ request would require eliminating SA Sen. Charles Aborisade, U-at-Large, in the first round and Christian Zidouemba in the second round through one method and choosing the election winner in the third round through a different method.

In the first round of ranked-choice voting, Hill received 38.6 percent of first-place votes, Zidouemba received 23.1 percent, Edwards received 22.4 percent and Aborisade received 15.8 percent, according to the Joint Elections Commission’s certified results.

“Based on her own logic, a runoff would then be required between President Hill and Mr. Zidouemba, the two top vote-getters in the inconclusive first round,” the opinion states. “Former Vice President Edwards received the third highest number of votes; any interpretation of the definition of a runoff surely would not be between the candidate with the most votes and the candidate with the third-highest number of votes.”

The court also dismissed Edwards’ request to “halt” Hill’s transition of power from his current term to his next term and require the JEC to host an runoff between Hill and Edwards because the court “fails to see how this request for relief is substantially different from her first demand for relief.”

The court further dismissed Edwards’ third request to compel the JEC to hold a runoff if Edwards’ petition to request a second election reached 1,050 signatures in 72 hours. The petition acquired about 70 signatures as of Wednesday, more than a week after she started the petition.

The opinion states that neither the SA constitution nor JEC bylaws provide for holding a second election.

Associate Judge Corrie Chase concurred with the decision to dismiss the case but disagreed with the justification that ranked-choice voting satisfied a constitutional mandate for a runoff election.

Chase’s concurrence states that the JEC “overstepped” its authority by eliminating a “true” runoff through ranked-choice voting. She wrote that the SA constitution states the JEC is responsible for coordinating elections, not determining the vote share required for a candidate to win an election or reinterpreting runoffs to fit with ranked-choice voting.

The constitution requires that candidates for SA president and vice president must receive at least 45 percent of the vote to be elected.

The opinion states that the constitution requires that runoffs be separate elections from the initial election. She said the JEC has the authority to facilitate the election and establish rules for campaigns, but they cannot “decide whether or not a runoff should be a different election.”

The opinion states candidates in ranked-choice voting could still end in a tie, requiring a runoff, according to the JEC bylaws.

“In order to maintain a peaceful transition of power and in order to not unduly burden the school and students, I do not see a purpose of undoing the current election results,” the concurrence states. “However, I cannot help but explain that the inattentive nature in which the SA Constitution, the JEC bylaws and their amendments were drafted is cause for concern.”

Edwards did not return a request for comment.

Hill, the SA president, said he is glad the court agreed with “many” student advocates to confirm the “accuracy, fairness and strength” of the election.

“I’m also grateful to the JEC for persisting through a difficult all-virtual campaign period, continuing to defend our democratic election,” he said.

JEC Commissioner Chloe Wagner declined a request for comment.

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