Campaign suspensions overturned

The Student Supreme Court dropped charges against six campaigns that were temporarily suspended Friday.

Chief Justice Nailah Rogers, who is the only individual allowed on the court to make public statements on the rulings, could not be reached for comment.

The Electoral Commission suspended the campaigns of SGA candidates for holding motor parades on the Set. The candidates included SGA President and Vice President hopefuls, Andre Hammel and Tisa Holley, both Mr. FAMU candidates, Jermaine Jack and Marion Slaton, Talitha Coverson, a candidate for Miss FAMU, senior attendant hopeful Niela Fields and Brooke Smith, a junior attendant candidate.

“They exhibited blatant disregard of electoral rules,” said Justin McDowell, a precinct supervisor.

All candidates were charged with major violations, which include any violations that affect the outcome of an election, repeated minor violations or blatant disregard of the Electoral Codes.

The Supreme Court, with both the Electoral Commission and the defendants pleading their cases, individually heard each case. For each case, the Electoral Commission argued that the candidates violated university policy by having parades on the Set. Commission officials said that by driving through the vehicle-restricted area, certain candidates were soliciting votes illegally.

“The Set was an unapproved location and unfair leverage over other candidates,” said Electoral Commissioner Tiffany Finch.

The commission added that the parades were health hazards and violated traffic laws by causing congestion on streets.

“If someone were to get hurt, we would have a grave situation on our hands,” McDowell said.

However, some campaign team members said that was not their intent.

“We had to drive slowly because we were driving rented Chevys and had documentation to drive through the Set,” said Aaron Berry, representing Hammel and Holley. “We used an original idea to draw attention to our campaign.”

Several others echoed the same message.

“We were given approval for the event in October 2001. If any rules were changed, we weren’t given proper notification,” said Aziza Bowser, representing Jack.

Coverson said the Electoral Commission failed to provide either her or the other candidates involved with tangible documents explaining their allegations.

Coverson presented the court with a signed written statement by Officer Berlendah Gadson stating that she gave her permission to drive through the Set without any incurred

penalty and reminded the commission of the hierarchy of orders.

“As a student of Florida A&M University, I am obligated to follow the rules stated in the Student Constitution, the FANG and the Electoral Codes.

However, the laws of state supercede the aforementioned regulations,” she said.

The suspension debate centered around whether it was made clear that parades were prohibited. Attayah Ali and Saasha Wheeler, witnesses for Coverson and Smith, respectively, testified that no mention of parades was made at a mandatory candidates’ meeting held Feb. 17. However, commission officials contended that candidates were informed of the stipulation at the meeting.

“I made it very clear that there could be no parades or open-pit grills and that food had to be catered,” said Catherine Jefferson, advisor to the Electoral Commissioner. “I’ve been lied on before. I know what I said, the only mistake was not putting it in writing.”

Currently, the Electoral Codes do not address parades as campaign tactics.

John M. Lee, a senior senator who represented Smith, said Finch overstepped her boundaries by suspending candidates for violating a university policy.

“You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. Every candidate has to sign a ‘Statement of Agreement’ saying that they will follow the rules submitted by the Electoral Commission, but the only rules submitted were the Electoral Codes, not traffic laws or university policies.

“Even if the candidates violated university policy, only the university can take action against them, not the commissioner,” Lee said.

According to the Election Procedures in Chapter 602 in the Electoral Codes, each member of the commission “shall submit a list of problems, solutions, or possible changes to the Election Code (in Memorandum Form) within two weeks following each Election to the Student Senate Elections and Appointments Committee.”

SGA Attorney General Dawn Pettigrew said that she would make recommendations for a revision of the codes to include a prohibition of parades.

“I want to make sure that it’s clear and in writing,” Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew said she was happy the ordeal was over and candidates could continue campaigning.

“I’m glad it’s over now and I wish everyone the best of luck.”