Although Arunabha Debnath, the chairperson of the Board of Elections, said the usual penalty for the misrepresentation and falsification charges faced by the Noble campaign in the Sengstaken case is eight points, the Board of Elections gave 11 points due to “aggravating circumstances," particularly the risk it posed to the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group's tax-exempt status.
The Sengstaken case
According to the BOE’s decision in Sengstaken’s case, Noble was penalized for two phrases in his platform, which read “Continue Work with NCPIRG” and “continuing to work with NCPIRG,” a nonpartisan advocacy group.
Sengstaken, who is also the vice chairperson and college affordability campaign coordinator for NCPIRG, argued this phrasing could cause one to believe the Noble campaign had a previous relationship with the organization, which it had not.
Noble’s campaign manager, Hannah Snow, said she was surprised that this language was targeted because there were other similar instances of this throughout Noble's platform.
“Clearly we could have been more specific,” Snow said. “But there are multiple instances in our platform where we had outlined, ‘Continue working’ with other organizations such as Mi Pueblo or organizations that our foreseen administration had not been communicating with or collaborating with beforehand.”
According to the BOE decision, Sengstaken argued that “continuing to work with NCPIRG to work on lowering the costs of textbooks and course materials” could make people believe NCPIRG had endorsed the Noble campaign.
Snow said if they had been endorsed by NCPIRG, they would have made it much more clear.
“You can check our Facebook page, you can check the end of our platform itself, we had zero endorsements,” she said. “If we were trying to claim an endorsement, we would’ve clearly done so.”
Besides the endorsement confusion, Sengstaken said Noble lied to NCPIRG’s organizing director, who had asked Noble to remove the language, by saying the problem had been fixed when it hadn’t.
According to the BOE decision, Noble did not change the phrasing until five days after being told by NCPIRG's organizing director to remove the language and did not self-report the violation, which the decision said could have threatened NCPIRG’s non-profit status.
“The potential severity of the issue is worsened by the Defendant’s assurances that it had been resolved when it had not been,” the BOE’s decision said. “In addition, should the Plaintiff’s Organization lose their tax-exempt status and funding sources due to the actions of the Defendant, they have put themselves, their campaign, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Student Government (due to its oversight of elections) at risk for being held liable for this issue.”
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Noble said he thinks the student body president election is nonpartisan.
"I would hardly say that student body president is a political office. It’s elected but we run off platforms and ideals, not party politics, so I don’t know," Noble said.
Regardless of the 11 points from those two violations, Debnath said if Noble would have received the standard eight points, he still would have been at a disqualifying 15 points when adding the additional violations.
"How were we expected to not feel that this was strategic effort (sic) by the campaign team, since these accounts occurred far sooner than they were reported and were ever-so-conveniently reported the weekend before the Tuesday election?” Snow wrote on Facebook after Noble was disqualified.
Creef denied that there was a coordinated campaign to eliminate Noble or any other campaign and said the only reason the complaints were all filed on Friday is because Creef and Vilim met up that day to check the formatting of the complaints.
Martin said the campaign did not intend to disqualify any candidate, and that the evidence presented in Creef’s case was based on what an outside party had reported to them. Martin said Sengstaken acted separately as vice chairperson of NCPIRG when filing his case.
“We chose to file (the complaints) at the same time because we didn’t want to do anything without proper evidence and without consulting my entire team to make sure that these were things that were valid,” she said.
Snow said she thinks the fact that Martin was present at all of Noble’s hearings shows she had been involved.
“If we’re following logic here, there’s no way for us to have not assumed that the Martin team was invested in this issue also,” Snow said.
Martin said she attended the hearings to show support for her friends, but that she would have attended any of the hearings that are publicly posted.
“Even though the NCPIRG charge did not come from my campaign, Nick is my friend, and he like wanted our support there, so I went,” she said. “I was also very curious if any other hearings had been going on that weren’t involved with people on my campaign.”
After Noble was disqualified, his campaign could have appealed the decision with the UNC Student Supreme Court, but Snow said there was not enough information on the process posted online, and that she and Noble did not trust the system.
“It comes down to a point where if they were so punitive to begin with, why are we going to continue to expend energy on a system that, as I have pointed out, is problematic and does not give an equitable chance to all candidates based on their affiliation with Student Government, or like, non-Student Government background?” Snow said.
Debnath said this election was just as stressful for him as it had been for the candidates. He said students who think the decisions in Noble’s cases were delayed should ask their senators and president to give the Board of Elections the power to pause an election — a power which belongs to the UNC Student Supreme Court.
“We could have received the complaints, paused the election, heard the complaints, decided the results, then let everyone know and let them adjust before holding the election at a later date,” Debnath said.