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Tj Edwards sues Board of Elections for denying eligibility as graduate SBP candidate

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UNC senior TJ Edwards is pictured on Polk Place on Feb. 14, 2023.

With UNC's spring elections rapidly approaching, senior Tj Edwards is awaiting the decision of their lawsuit against the UNC Board of Elections. The UNC Student Supreme Court's decision could determine whether Edwards can appear on the 2024 graduate and professional student body president ballot.

Edwards, chair of the Carolina Union Board of Directors, filed a complaint against the UNC BOE on Jan. 20 after Sophie van Duin, the board's acting chair, informed Edwards on Jan. 18 that he would not be able to run for the position of graduate and professional student body president.

Edwards is currently enrolled in UNC’s dual-degree accelerated Master of Public Policy program. Because they are not paying graduate student fees, Edwards is not eligible to run for the GPSG presidency, according to Chapter 3, Article 1, Section 1.2 of the Student Constitution. The GPSG president must be enrolled as a fee-paying graduate or professional student as of their inauguration on the first Tuesday of April, the policy states.

“They want to run for graduate student body president in this coming election. We do not believe that they have standing to do so, as they are currently an undergraduate student,” van Duin said.

Although they will not pay graduate fees until the fall, Edwards said they believe they should be able to run for GPSG president on Feb. 20 for the 2024-25 academic year because they are already getting the graduate experience at the University.

“One of the reasons that this is a really big deal is that in June of 2025, I will no longer be a grad student," Edwards said. "I only have one more year at Carolina."

Edwards ran for undergraduate student body president last year but lost to Christopher Everett

Edwards said the language of Section 1.2, which also states the fee-paying graduate or professional student will serve a one-year term beginning with an inauguration in April, is unclear. After filing the lawsuit, they began collecting the required signatures — equal to 10 percent of the graduate student body — for an initiative petition to submit a referendum that would change the language to specify a student's constituency on the first day of the fall semester following the spring election. 

However, Edwards did not collect enough signatures in time for their referendum to appear on the undergraduate student body president ballot.

Andrew Gary, speaker of the undergraduate senate and general counsel to the UNC BOE, said election regulations also stipulates that student body president candidates may not file for graduation. Edwards has, which means they cannot be a candidate for the undergraduate student body presidency either.

Edwards filed a motion for a temporary restraining order on Jan. 21, attempting to delay the spring elections until the court made a decision.

In the motion, Edwards claimed the denial of a TRO would cause substantive harm to the electoral process and that continuing to allow the BOE to act in an illegal manner would jeopardize the results of the graduate and professional student government election.

Gary filed a response to the TRO on Jan. 26 which referred to Edwards’ complaint as overly broad and legally baseless. The court denied the TRO on Feb. 1, asserting that delaying the elections would be substantially disruptive to little end.

The BOE also requested a potential hearing to be held before Feb. 1 to adhere to the elections' schedules. The Court denied this in an order issued on Jan. 27, stating that they did not believe a hearing would be definitively necessary. 

The court said that it is working as quickly as possible to come to a decision. Edwards said they must win this case against the BOE to appear as an official candidate on the ballot.

However, the Undergraduate Senate and Graduate and Professional Student Senate voted to include another referendum on the student body president ballot this Wednesday that, if passed, could update the UNC Constitution. Among other things, it would change the number of signatures required for an initiative petition to be submitted, equal to one-third of the number of students that voted in the previous year’s spring elections.

If passed, Edwards' referendum could still appear on the GPSP ballot because they met the signature threshold under these guidelines.

“I’ve kept going because this is not really about me, it’s about the fact that the student government has the power to fix oversights that we see in the same way that the actual government does,” Edwards said.

@nataliemcc212@aidan__lockhart

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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