DePaul SGA Judicial Board to investigate allegations of spring quarter election rule violations


(DePaul Student Government Association)

The Judicial Board of DePaul’s Student Government Association (SGA) will hold a hearing Thursday to investigate allegations of rule violations in the organization’s recent election.

SGA announced the hearing three hours prior to its start at 6 p.m., and did not include a Zoom link for students outside of SGA to attend. 

The hearing comes after SGA released the results of its spring quarter election May 14 on Instagram, where it announced a protest was filed regarding a candidate’s campaign and that the Judicial Board was in the process of reviewing the complaint.

The protest, obtained by The DePaulia, alleges that newly elected SGA President Watfae Zayed accessed and submitted her candidate application prior to when the applications were made available to others and that Zayed and her running mate Kevin Holechko “received special treatment” from SGA’s Elections Operations Board (EOB) to post their campaign materials on SGA’s website, according to the document.

“Even without any conspiracy, the inappropriate timing of the form submission should have been obvious to anyone at EOB reviewing the form submission, and it still represents extreme negligence on the part of EOB to somehow not notice the time stamp on the submission,” the complaint, filed by David Hupp, SGA’s newly elected senator for disabled students, reads.

Hupp wrote that his concerns originated from when Zayed and Holechko’s campaign initiatives were posted onto SGA’s website right after applications were made available to all candidates running for open positions within SGA and that the formatting of his initiatives looked different.

“I was initially concerned because the poor formatting made my campaign initiatives very difficult to read compared to the proper bulleted list structure of Watfae’s and Kevin’s campaign initiatives,” the complaint reads. 

In an interview with The DePaulia, Hupp said he contacted Jane Pallos, SGA’s elections coordinator, and Kelsee Avery, SGA’s executive secretary, asking if they could fix the formatting of his initiatives and that Pallos was having a difficult time rectifying the problem.

“At the very minimum, the person who posted Watfae’s and Kevin’s materials was clearly not the same person who posted everyone else’s because they actually knew how to use text formatting in CampusGroups,” Hupp said. “It took Jane several days to properly format mine versus Watfae’s was formatted properly right out of the gate. No one else’s was properly formatted.”

Afterwards, Hupp said he reached out to an SGA officer regarding the formatting issue and they told him that Zayed’s application was submitted early claiming in his complaint that, “she submitted her application at 1:00 a.m. on Monday the 19th of April, even though applications were not officially open until 8 hours later at 9 a.m. that day. The application form was not even publicly available to people outside of EOB until 9 a.m., and yet somehow Watfae filled out and submitted her campaign application anyway.”

According to a member of SGA, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Zayed did not submit her application early and that everyone in SGA had early access to the application.

The SGA member said that the 1 a.m. time that Hupp referred to in his complaint was the time that Zayed accessed the form and that another timestamp indicates that Zayed actually submitted the application after 9 a.m. on April 19, the time at which applications were made available.

“There was a screenshot … that says when it was accessed, when it was submitted and when it was reviewed by Jane and that is fact and the screenshot that David is pinning on where it just says the submission time, when we spoke to IS [Information Services] it only says this because she accessed it at that time,” the member said.

In an interview with The DePaulia, Zayed said she did access the form early but denied submitting it early.

“Everyone that was elected in SGA this past year did have access to the form early,” Zayed said. “I did click on it, like I’m not gonna lie about that. I was up really late, and I was just getting DeHUB ready for when I woke up the next morning, and I did click on it.”

“I know the next morning I woke up, it was during a Cabinet meeting and I was texting Kevin and we were going through our initiatives and stuff and copying and pasting our initiatives into the form,” Zayed continued.

In an interview with The DePaulia, Hupp and another member of SGA, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explained that on SGA’s DeHUB page for its members, each member has certain permissions that grants them access to certain parts on the website. 

According to Hupp, one permission called “Manage Surveys and Forms,” gives members access to the “Manage Surveys and Forms” link, which is where the applications were filed.

“It is my understanding that someone who has the ‘Manage Surveys and Forms’ permission, if they click that link, then they see all of the forms that have been created,” Hupp said.

At the time of the interview, Zayed did not have access to the “Manage Surveys and Forms” section  but had access to a permission called “Manage Officer Settings.” 

“It is my understanding that that permission allows her to change these checkboxes for other users,”Hupp said.

Because of Zayed’s access to that permission, Hupp alleges that “Watfae [Zayed] used her special VP permissions on DeHUB/CampusGroups to access the form before it was published,” according to the protest.

But according to the first anonymous SGA member, if someone clicks further into the form, it displays more information.

“If you keep clicking into the file, you see the rest of everyone’s forms …In there is where everyone accessed it, submitted it, and then it was reviewed by EOB,” the member said. “Whoever clicked on her stuff didn’t go through the files and see that she had submitted it at 9-something in the morning.”

Courtney James, SGA’s advisor, said candidates running for a position in SGA had their access to the application removed on DeHUB and that part of J-Board’s investigation will look into when James removed the access.

“I think that will be part of the J-Board investigation, like when I turned it off, versus when all officers could see it, I think as part of the timeline that they have to discuss,” James said.

Regardless of when candidates had access to the form, James said that Pallos informed candidates of the contents of the application form during several information sessions last month, which asks candidates to list their initiatives and about themselves..

“All of the candidates, in theory, should know what was on the form before they looked at it from attendance at those candidate information sessions,” James said.

And according to the first anonymous SGA member, the application itself has not changed from election to election.

“All of the [stuff] that Jane [Pallos] puts out when it comes to going to an info session, all that [stuff’s] been the same for the last three, four years” the member said. “Basically, you introduce yourself, you say what you’re running for, you say kind of what you’re about, kind of what you’re involved in, you say what you’re majoring in, what year you are, and then you go into a little bit about yourself and why your qualified for the position.”

“Everybody who has run before already knows the questions that they’re going to ask,” the member added. “Also, all these questions that are on the application are literally discussed at info sessions before you submit your application.”

Because of this, Zayed said she and Holechko knew what to expect from the application and that they had been preparing their campaign materials ahead of time.

“Everything that we posted on our campaign account was ready the weekend before the application opened,” Zayed said. “We wanted to be ready for it, just so we could show our preparedness, and we didn’t have to worry too much — especially because I was fasting. I was spending a lot of time with my family. So I wasn’t available much during the day.” 

But Hupp alleges that because Zayed had access to — and allegedly submitted — the application early, it put her at an advantage on the ballot. 

“The sooner you get the application in, the sooner you have a petition for people to sign,” Hupp said. “Even if someone looked at the application at exactly 9 a.m. when it was made available to everyone else, it still would have taken them a while to fill it out, do their write up versus an application that was already completed.” 

Hupp added that the candidate that completed their application sooner would then have access to the petition sooner.

“All other things considered equal, assuming that they collect signatures at the same speed, that person would then complete their signatures sooner and that person would be listed first on the ballot and as I mentioned, there is an empirical advantage to being listed first on an election ballot in a way that is not remotely unique to SGA,” Hupp said. 

But Zayed said that she doesn’t believe accessing the form early affected the outcome of the election.

“I don’t think me opening a form early has anything to do with me winning the election,” Zayed said. “I just think it has to do with my work ethic and the work I was able to do this year and people want to see that continue.”

In addition to Zayed, Hupp alleges that Adora Alava, SGA’s newly elected executive vice president of diversity and equity, also submitted and accessed the application early.

In an interview with The DePaulia, Alava said she did not submit the application early and believes that the allegation has to do with a problem with DeHUB.

“This whole allegation is based on a software issue, and a glitch,” Alava said. “DeHUB is an outdated app; it is hard to navigate through. A lot of people can speak on that and will speak on that at the trial.”

Alava added she does not believe she had an advantage because she began campaigning after applications were made available to everyone and that all candidates had three weeks to submit their application.

“I actually started posting about my campaign and releasing my campaign materials an entire week after I submitted my application as a candidate just because I needed to have all my campaign materials ready,” Alava said.

Alava said she believes that the allegations are an attack on women of color within SGA.

“This is just another attack on women of color in SGA, who have been obtaining leadership positions,” Alava said. “I feel as if I was just roped into this for a miniscule software issue and this is being used against me as if I did not run a fair and honest campaign, which I did nothing but honest work.”

According to Alava, she has worked with women of color in SGA on several projects and initiatives this past year as senator for community and government relations.

“I’ve seen a lot of our work and our character get attacked by [our] white counterparts, even the complainant in this trial, and it’s created an uncomfortable and harmful environment in SGA,” Alava said.

Another aspect of Hupp’s complaint alleges that Zayed failed to fulfill her constitutional duties to hold a Constitutional Revisions Board (CRB) meeting this quarter. As SGA’s vice president, Zayed also serves as the chair of CRB, according to SGA’s constitution.

“I brought this up at GB last week, and the Chair (Watfae) responded by saying that it had been a ‘group decision’ not to convene CRB,” read the complaint. “I responded by pointing out that it was not, in fact, the constitutional discretion of CRB to unilaterally decide not to convene itself, group decision or otherwise.”

According to Zayed, she communicated with other members of CRB asking if they would be okay with not having a session this quarter and instead worked over the group’s Slack to discuss the amendments. 

“Typically, [CRB] is not held during spring quarter, because it does take a long time, at least one to two meetings, and we only had like six meetings that we were able to use,” Zayed said. 

“I was told that it’s okay, if we didn’t have it, and especially because we did have tabled amendments to revisit, it would suffice if we just met as CRB or discussed as CRB and represented those instead of opening it up for new revisions,” Zayed added.

Despite not holding a formal session, Zayed explained that CRB held a session during SGA’s general body meeting. 

“A CRB session was held during our general body meeting; it just wasn’t the typical structure that people are used to where a survey gets sent out, and people could send in revisions and then we vote on them and then, it goes through that whole process,” Zayed said.

As part of the trial, J-Board will also investigate Hupp’s allegation that EOB failed to notify all candidates of the election results three hours prior to making the results public, which is stated in EOB’s bylaws.

Kelsee Avery, SGA’s executive secretary and chief justice of J-Board, said Hupp asked for J-Board to issue an injunction to stop EOB from releasing the results.

“As I said to him in my email, like constitutionally, I as chief justice or the entirety of the J-Board can’t issue any injunctions until we had a hearing,” Avery said. “So because we had just received that information on Thursday [May 13], there was no way that we could have done that in that time period without having a hearing, and determining if the allegations are true or not.”

Avery, who has recused herself from the trial due to her involvement in EOB, added that SGA has postponed its inauguration to June 3 which was originally scheduled for May 20. According to Avery, this decision was made to allow for J-Board to determine the validity of the allegations.

For Zayed, not having been officially inaugurated has made it challenging to begin her work as president.

“We recently released a statement in support of Palestinian students,” Zayed said. “That just took a lot more strategizing and planning because we had to find, like a loophole to release it without actually being inaugurated yet, but we knew the statement was something that was urgently needed. 

“A lot of this is just putting a hold on us being able to support students,” Zayed added.