The result of a recent Student Government Association election commission meeting has left some students demanding further investigation.
The purpose of this meeting was the review and discussion of recent allegations of SGA President-elect Pooja Shah’s campaign practices. The meeting is reported to have occurred on the day of the election and resulted in verification of the original election results.
During election week, images posted on the Internet purportedly depicted Shah and a teammate campaigning door-to-door at University Edge, a practice forbidden by election commission rules. As a result, a social media outcry ensued, including the hashtags #HoldSGAAccountable and #JusticeForStudents.
President-elect Shah did not return a request for comment.
“It’s just not right,” said SGA Associate Justice Martin Tompkins, who was running for the position of SGA president on an opposing ticket and lost to Shah by 29 votes. “I feel that students deserve to have a leader that was truly elected; and if [Pooja] cheated, she’s not truly elected.”
Tompkins claims to have taken the pictures that allegedly depict Shah violating election rules. Tompkins said he took the pictures after he spotted Shah and a teammate allegedly going door-to-door and followed them to observe. Tompkins said this happened around 1:15 p.m. on April 15, a little over three hours before voting closed.
“I saw them with my own eyes walking door to door,” Tompkins said.
Tompkins said when he approached Shah and took the pictures, Shah told him that ETSU Dean of Students Jeff Howard had given her permission to campaign there.
“That didn’t make sense to me, because why would he say that one person could campaign there and not everyone else?” Tompkins said. “It didn’t add up.”
Tompkins provided the East Tennessean with an email sent to the candidates during election week. The email, sent by Secretary of Interior and Election Commissioner Brad Fisher, addressed campaign policies that were not allowed and included the instructions “do not give tablets/laptops to students to vote” and “no campaigning in the residence halls.”
Tompkins said the election commission meeting took place on the same day the pictures were taken, but otherwise had little information to offer about it.
“I really don’t know what all goes on in those [meetings],” Tompkins said. “They don’t say anything outside of it either.”
The meeting was held under the supervision of Howard and Fisher.
“The Election Commission did a great job under the leadership of SGA Secretary of Interior Brad Fisher,” Howard said in an email. “The commissioners were approved and sworn in by the SGA Senate. They coordinated a smooth candidate registration process online, a debate, election promotion, seat apportionment, and they responded to every complaint and took action in all complaints they had a level of actionable information and evidence. The work of Secretary Fisher and the Election Commission are being questioned, but they are unable to defend themselves or all of the information they discussed or reviewed.”
Howard expressed disappointment at the negative dynamic of this year’s SGA election season.
“As in the past several years, the level of animosity and contentiousness increased through the end of SGA election week,” Howard said. “Unfortunately, it seems this animosity has turned to social media and into personal attacks and behavior that is unacceptable.”
Howard said Shah was ahead in the election from the beginning of the voting process.
“It is hard for those outside of the election commission to see the entire picture,” Howard said. “For example, President-elect Shah and Vice President-elect Farnor took the lead from the beginning of voting and never lost the lead. They were elected from different tickets.”
Fisher echoed Howard’s sentiments.
“It’s super easy to throw this stuff out there, but they don’t have any knowledge about the actual data,” Fisher said.
Fisher added: “The data is confidential, but the results stand.”
Fisher said that these accusations are the result of emotions rather than factual evidence.
“There has to be evidence that’s actionable,” Fisher said. “When the other candidates are already biased, emotions and passion get in the way. That’s what’s driving this.”
Tompkins said he is not the only person in the organization who is troubled by the allegations.
Fisher denied allegations that he and Shah had a romantic relationship.
“It’s absolutely not true,” Fisher said. “And there’s no evidence … there won’t be any data behind it — all emotions and lies.”
A student court hearing will be scheduled in the near future to further review the allegations against President-elect Shah and to take any action arising therefrom. Student court Chief Justice Rikesh Patel declined to comment on when this hearing will take place, saying that it was not official yet.
In the meantime, Tompkins and others remain distressed by the election commission meeting results.
“People are upset with Pooja because she consistently broke the rules, and because it seems like the rules were bent for her,” Tompkins said. “Now, there’s administration telling us that we need to let this go and all this type of stuff. And it’s like, no; this is an injustice.”
Tompkins declined to comment who in ETSU administration was making these comments.
Regardless, the decision of the election commission stands, Howard said. “The commission has certified the election results, and those elected to serve as senators or to the executive branch will be sworn in next week.”