DePaul SGA Judicial Board held hearing to investigate allegations of election violations

Students+walk+on+the+Quad%2C+located+on+the+Lincoln+Park+campus.

Eric Henry

Students walk on the Quad, located on the Lincoln Park campus.

Editor’s note: Marcus Robertson, who presided as Chief Justice of the hearing, is an editor for The DePaulia. He has no involvement with The DePaulia’s SGA reporting. 

The Judicial Board of DePaul’s Student Government Association (SGA) held a hearing Thursday to investigate allegations of election violations in its spring quarter election. 

David Hupp, SGA’s newly elected senator for disabled students, filed complaints alleging that newly elected SGA President Watfae Zayed accessed and submitted her application early along with newly elected executive vice president Adora Alava, and that Zayed failed to uphold her constitutional duties as vice president to hold a Constitutional Revisions Board (CRB) session. 

 

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Hupp also claimed that SGA’s Elections Operations Board (EOB) provided Zayed and her running mate with “better text formatting” when posting their initiatives on SGA’s website and that EOB failed to notify candidates and others in SGA of the election results three hours prior to notifying the public. 

Zayed believes the allegations are politically motivated.

“It just seems like the timing of this all the people involved … It just seems very politically motivated because there are people in SGA that do believe in accountability and I feel if they truly did believe in accountability, and it wasn’t politically motivated, they would have mentioned this sooner or there would be other people involved,” Zayed said in an interview with The DePaulia. 

While Zayed said that her decision to run for president was to represent Palestinian students and other marginailized communities at DePaul and not for monetary gain, the stakes in the election were high, as the president receives a $10,000 scholarship.

“When I saw that it was an option, although it’s a lot of work, and I knew it was going to be difficult, I recognized that I had such an amazing opportunity to support my community and I had to go for it,” Zayed said. “Scholarship or no scholarship, obviously money motivates, right, but I don’t think that was ever it for me. When I joined SGA at the beginning, I never knew anyone had scholarships.”

Alava believes the allegations are an attack on women of color in SGA. 

“This is just another attack on women of color in SGA who have been obtaining leadership positions,” Alava said in an interview with The DePaulia. “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, [for] which I did nothing but honest work.”

Claim that EOB Did Not Notify SGA and Candidates of Election Results

The hearing opened with the allegation that SGA’s EOB failed to notify candidates of the results of the election three hours prior to making them public, per SGA’s rules and regulations. 

According to EOB’s bylaws, the EOB chair must inform all candidates, the SGA advisor and the president of the election results three hours prior to making the announcement public.

Master EOB Bylawsdocx by DePaulia on Scribd

In his opening remarks, Hupp said he filed the complaints after asking EOB to delay the certification of the election results because of the other protests.

“Kelsee [Avery, SGA’s executive secretary] told me that they [EOB] couldn’t delay certification of the results because of the rules when that’s literally not in the rules,” Hupp said. “I felt like I was getting institutionally gaslit, which is a thing that has just repeatedly happened in SGA.”

Jane Pallos, SGA’s elections coordinator, said she received the election results Thursday, May 13 at 3:21 p.m. from DePaul Information Services , an entire day before SGA announced the results. Because she worked that day, Pallos said she did not have time to review the results until the next day.

“When I finally had a chance to take a look at the document Information Services sent me, I was confused as it was unlike anything they have sent me in the past,” Pallos said. “The numbers were not calculated automatically.”

Pallos added that a new constitutional rule requires EOB to release the percentages and raw numbers of each candidate’s vote count.

“This means that I myself had to calculate these percentages and numbers as Information Services did not do it for me, so this was not an easy task for me,” Pallos said. “The process overall took a lot more time than expected and as a result we admit that the election results were not able to be sent to candidates at least three hours before they were made public.”

“We argue that it was more important for raw numbers and percentages to be of the most accurate quality before they were made public,” Pallos continued. “Ultimately, no harm was done to any candidate, organization, petition or entity as a result of this.”

After Pallos presented evidence, Hupp said his complaint was based on a misunderstanding during his communications with Avery — SGA’S executive secretary who also serves as the chief justice of J-Board but recused herself from the hearing due to her involvement in EOB.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to dismiss it, but I would imagine that’s going to be the outcome for this one,” said Marcus Robertson, the acting chief justice of J-Board overseeing the hearing, regarding the allegation.

Allegation Regarding Zayed’s Role as CRB Chair

Afterwards, the hearing addressed Hupp’s allegation that Zayed, SGA’s newly elected president, failed to uphold her constitutional duties as vice president to hold a CRB meeting this quarter. 

During the hearing, Hupp, who wanted to propose a revision to CRB this quarter, claimed that Zayed told him that CRB had decided as a group not to hold a session that quarter. Hupp added that Alyssa Isberto, who served as SGA president this academic year, informed him that CRB met but did not solicit revisions from those outside of CRB.

“I spoke to another member of CRB and the other member of CRB said that it was not in fact a group decision,” Hupp said. “I’m not looking for any formal consequences beyond a finding that they did not meet and that they should have met and that failure to me was the failure, and that that matters.”

In her opening remarks, Zayed said she believed that there were other ways to resolve the problem instead of a hearing.

FILE-Watfae Zayed (left) and Kevin Holechko (right) were named next year’s Student Government Association president and vice president. (Courtesy of @watfae.kevin4depaul on Instagram)

“I do think a lot of this could’ve been avoided by simply having a conversation,” Zayed said. “I like to consider myself as an understanding, approachable and empathetic person. It’s extremely disheartening to see that individuals have persisted in making it an unsafe environment and uncomfortable for some of our members.”

“I think it’s extremely immature and upsetting that when I was vulnerable to CRB and I mentioned that I was experiencing ‘burnout’ — which were my exact words — that they were sent to parties outside of our private channel without my consent,” she added. 

During the hearing, Zayed explained that a precedent had been set that CRB does not typically meet spring quarter due to the reduced number of meetings and that the trial distracted from SGA’s ability to advocate for students. 

“In my opinion this is a waste of our time, and at present is preventing our new cabinet from beginning work to serve our students, which we’ve been trying to do for the past two weeks and haven’t been able to,” Zayed said.

“I don’t think that a Slack meeting constitutes a meeting and, specifically, there was an issue that I had about the constitution appealing to people being required to follow the law which is something that is used … to marginalize all sorts of vulnerable groups,” Hupp responded.

As evidence, Hupp showed a screenshot of CRB’s Slack conversation regarding proposing constitutional amendments to present to SGA’s general body.

Zayed’s witness in the trial, Isberto, who served in SGA from her freshman year until stepping down this year, said CRB typically did not meet except for last year to hold an emergency session but that the constitution states otherwise.

“Looking back at our constitution, it does say … that [the] Constitutional Revisions Board does have to meet every quarter, at least once,” Isberto said. “I did apologize severely. I apologized for I think like two to three minutes about how this was navigated.”

Zayed’s other witness, Johnny Milas, SGA’s senator for fourth and fifth-year students, said he believed that the Slack conversation constituted as CRB’s meeting this quarter.

“I have been under the impression that we did meet,” Milas said. “As far as I know, Slack has been a formal communication channel of SGA. We have held votes in there. We’ve done other official SGA business through that.”

Allegation Into Early Access and Submission of Candidate Applications

For the remainder of the hearing, J-Board examined Hupp’s allegation that Zayed and Adora Alava, SGA’s newly elected executive vice president of diversity and equity, violated EOB’s bylaws. Hupp claimed they accessed their candidate applications before other candidates had access and that EOB was negligent by not noticing.

“Submitting the campaign applications before the form was officially available gave [them] a time advantage for completing all of the requirements, and therefore, gave a material bias in the election itself,” Hupp said.

I do think a lot of this could’ve been avoided by simply having a conversation”

— Watfae Zayed, President, DePaul SGA

Zayed said she did not believe she had an advantage in the application process and questioned the motives of her opponent, SGA executive vice president of facility operations Wesley Janicki.

“If we think about motives of people and who I was running against … I’m not sure how this put me at an advantage,” Zayed said. “Kevin and I were very prepared.”

“My campaign materials weren’t submitted until after the form opened, which we do have documentation of showing
 the timestamps,” Zayed continued. “I had known the questions on the application from long before it opened because they’re the same questions every year, and I have experience in SGA. It’s my third year, and Jane [Pallos] had mentioned the questions before.”

Zayed’s Claims about Hupp’s Complaint 

Zayed alleged that Janicki was the one that gave Hupp access to the timestamps he used as evidence in his initial complaint since only members of SGA were able to access that information.

“My opponent logged into DeHUB 31 times on April 18 and seven times on April 19,” Zayed said. “We could take that as we want to see who actually sent David those timestamps, but the officer access was revoked later that night, so he would have only been able to get those screenshots of me accessing the documents that morning.”

FILE-Watfae Zayed, President of DePaul’s Student Government Association. (Student Government Association)

In an interview with The DePaulia, Avery said Hupp had circulated a draft of his complaint to others in SGA.

“Before David had issued his complaints, he had sent around a draft to several folks in SGA to ask for feedback, and the link to this draft that he was writing was sent into the elections operations board group chat,” Avery said.

During the trial, Hupp said he originated the complaint, but that there were others that did not want to get involved. 

Alava’s Remarks Regarding Early Access and Submission of Application

In her opening statements regarding early access to the application, Alava viewed the allegations as an attack against women of color in SGA.

“Individuals in SGA who claim to be allies for racial justice issues continue to attack and target women of color in leadership positions and this allegation about me intentionally accessing candidate material early for a special advantage is ultimately an attack on my character,” Alava said. 

A witness for Alava, Cindy Rocha, SGA’s newly elected executive vice president of student affairs, confirmed this during the hearing.

“I’ve first-handedly seen other women of color and women in general, being spoken over being dismissed, having their ideas dismissed,” Rocha said. 

Robbie Merkel, who served as SGA’s executive vice president of diversity and equity this academic year, delivered the opening remarks for EOB.

“Those that will argue against this dismissal will only have arguments that are factually inaccurate and continue to be compliant, and conspirators are not seeking accountability, they’re seeking punishment,” Merkel said. “No one should be punished for being human, and making a simple human mistake.”

Those that will argue against this dismissal will only have arguments that are factually inaccurate and continue to be compliant, and conspirators are not seeking accountability, they’re seeking punishment”

— Robbie Merkel, executive vice president of diversity and equity, SGA

“The allegations rooted in malice [and] in defamation will not divide, or weaken SGA,” Merkel continued. “In fact, it will make [it] stronger and more unified than ever before as the organization continues to serve the greater DePaul community under a new administration.”

Timestamps show Zayed and Alava Did Not Submit Applications Early

During the presentation of evidence, Courtney James, SGA’s advisor, went over the timeline of when officers no longer had access to “Manage Forms and Surveys,” the category that candidate applications fell under.

“I went back and looked at my text message logs,” James said. “They all had access to forms until, like, 8:30.”

In addition, James presented timestamps that showed Zayed accessed the form at 12 a.m. CST (1 a.m. EST as Hupp originally stated in his claim) — nine hours before the application was made available to the public — but that she submitted the form on April 19 at 9:46 a.m., after the application opened. EOB approved her application at 10:55 a.m.

James’ timestamps also indicated that Alava accessed the application on April 18 at 3:32 p.m. and submitted it on April 19 at 4:02 p.m. The form was later approved at 6:25 p.m.

“As a non-SGA member, I had no idea what was going to be on the questionnaire,” Hupp said. 

The hearing ended by addressing Hupp’s last allegation, that Zayed and her running mate Kevin Holechko received special treatment in the formatting of their campaign materials. 

Arantxa Reyes, SGA’s PR coordinator and a member of EOB, said Pallos was the only one that posted candidates’ campaign materials on SGA’s website during the hearing.

“Jane Pallos, the elections operations board chair, posted and formatted all the texts on the SGA election site,” Reyes said.

J-Board has 15 days after the hearing to publicly announce the verdict. If J-Board finds that those alleged committed any of these violations, J-Board could censure them, issue an injunction, expel or impeach them. If they are not found in violation of the allegations, J-Board will dismiss the cases.