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Virtual campaigning challenges: From ballot signature sharing to an ethics complaint

sbp headshots.jpg
Student Body President candidates Lamar Richards (left) and Keshav Javadi (right). Photo of Richards courtesy of Hanna Wondmagegn. Photo of Javadi by Caroline Bittenbender.

With two days until Election Day, the Student Body President race is uncertain as one candidate faces an ethics complaint filed by his opponent.

Candidates for SBP have been publicly campaigning since Feb. 9 with the goal of collecting 1,000 signatures for their petition ballots. The initial deadline for these signatures was Feb. 16, with a one-day grace period for candidates who meet the threshold but need additional signatures.

Only two of the five SBP candidates reached the signature goal and will have their names on the ballot: Lamar Richards and Keshav Javvadi.

Collecting petition signatures this year in the virtual space has proven especially difficult for some campaigns, and recently elicited a slew of complications and miscommunications among candidates. On Feb. 18, the Richards campaign filed an election violation complaint against the Javvadi campaign for misrepresentation and falsification.

The Board of Elections held a hearing for the complaint at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Each candidate was given time to present an argument, make a rebuttal and give a closing statement.

To understand the misrepresentation part of the complaint, one must look back to last week when candidates were vying for petition signatures.

The weekend before the signatures deadline, the Javvadi campaign said it came up with a potential idea to help each of the SBP candidates reach their signature threshold. 

The idea was that the five candidates could share a list of who had signed their petitions with one another, with the goal of finding more students to contact for signatures, Javvadi told The Daily Tar Heel.

“We were concerned by the time Tuesday (Feb. 16) rolled around that no candidate would be certified, and were concerned about the consequences for the election if only one or zero candidates were on the ballot,” Javvadi’s campaign wrote in a statement.

From Feb. 15 to 16, the Javvadi campaign said it broached the idea with the four other SBP candidates: Kennedy Byrd, Richards, Emily Elkas and Kyle Ashburn.

Following the outreach, Ashburn wrote a piece on his campaign website on Feb. 16, condemning the idea and raising questions about its political ethics.

“I’m not ashamed to admit I have gotten far fewer signatures than I would need to be certified," Ashburn wrote. "However, I was never tempted because this is an affront to my values and the democratic process."

When asked about the idea of sharing a list of who had signed petitions amongst candidates, the BOE reaffirmed its commitment to fairly applying the student codes to the elections process.

“Based on the information we have received, no violation of these codes has occurred,” the BOE wrote on the night of Feb. 16.

Ashburn wrote in the same post on Feb. 16 that two of the campaigns had already agreed to the idea and that a third was likely to do so.

While Ashburn’s post did not explicitly name any one of the campaigns, this specific assertion prompted a reaction from the Richards campaign, which said it had not agreed to such a plan.

“To reiterate, our campaign never agreed to any ‘petition sharing’ practice," the Richards campaign wrote in a statement. "Any assertions stating otherwise are a direct misrepresentation of our campaign."

By the evening of Feb. 15, the Richards campaign had already surpassed the 1,000 signatures threshold required to appear on the ballot, the campaign said.

The assertion that Ashburn made about other campaigns’ involvement in the idea was a direct result of the phrasing of Javvadi’s email to Ashburn and Elkas, in which Javvadi wrote: "I've already talked to the Richards and Byrd campaigns and they said they'd be down."

Javvadi’s campaign said in a statement that it never meant to mislead anyone and apologized for any mischaracterization of fellow campaigns.

The Byrd and Elkas campaigns did not provide a comment.

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“Whether or not candidates reached the 1,000 signature threshold, we recognized how hard it’s been to campaign during COVID-19 and wanted to help our peers see all the possible options they had for SBP on the ballot,” the Javvadi campaign wrote.

The plan was never officially brought forward to the BOE for approval because there was no unanimous consent to do so amongst the candidates. It is unclear whether or not it would have helped more candidates reach 1,000 signatures.

The Board said after the Sunday hearing that it will release its verdict from the complaint in the next 24 hours.

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