SGA court finds Sutherland/Hudson violated election rules, Sutherland will appeal


Travis Fannon

Isaac Sutherland, left, and Mallory Hudson answer questions during the SGA Presidential and Vice Presidential Debate on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, at the Gatton Student Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Kendall Staton, News Editor

The UK Student Government Association (SGA) Supreme Court published a slip opinion on the UKSGA website, detailing what caused the disqualification of Isaac Sutherland and Mallory Hudson from the student body presidential and vice presidential election. 

The SGA announced Sutherland/Hudson as the unofficial winners of the election on Feb. 28. After an SGA Supreme Court hearing to discuss claims of election campaigns violating the SGA governing codes on March 7, the supreme court disqualified the Sutherland/Hudson campaign. 

For each claim determined to be a violation of the election rules by the court, the offending campaign is awarded a decided number of disqualification points. Once 10 points are accumulated, the campaign is disqualified from the election. 

The Sutherland/Hudson campaign received 24 disqualification points. All other campaigns received zero points. 

Sutherland told the Kernel his campaign will appeal their loss to the University Appeals Board. 

“The reason for the appeal isn’t necessarily objecting each claim, rather it’s the objection of the system in place that led to those claims being disqualifying for our candidacy,” Sutherland said. 

The claims process for this year’s election differs from last year’s election. This is the first year a point system has been used to determine disqualification. 

Sutherland said his team did not want to pass any judgments on the supreme court associate justices and believed they are doing a great job.

“As a representative for students, we want to make sure that they are being served well, and make sure student voices are being heard,” he said. ”The appeal isn’t a judgment upon anybody, the justice or the organization, we have a lot of faith in them. We just want to make sure the student voice is being heard.” 

The SGA Supreme Court found four of the nine claims brought against the Sutherland/Hudson campaign to be violations. Each violation received an allocation of 6 disqualification points. 

The SGA Governing Codes outline what procedures must be followed by campaigns during the election cycle. The court held that the Sutherland/Hudson campaign violated the SGA governing codes in multiple ways. 

On March 7, following the hearing, the SGA announced Lizzy Hornung as the official winner of the student body presidential election and Jason Marcus as the official winner of the student body vice presidential election. 

The Haycraft/Niravong campaign and the Hornung/Marcus campaign jointly filed Claim 13 against Sutherland and Hudson, which stated the Sutherland/Hudson campaign forced, coerced or compelled students to vote for their campaign. 

Sutherland attended mandatory meetings of two UK sorority chapters, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Kappa Alpha Theta, on the night of Feb 27. During his visit, he presented to members about his election campaign and included a QR code linked to the SGA ballot. 

Talia Housman, a representative of the Hornung/Marcus and Niravong/Haycraft campaigns, argued Sutherland coerced voters at this meeting to submit ballots for his campaign. 

“Many of these members reported that at the end of this presentation, Mr. Sutherland instructed voters to pull out their phones and vote. Mr Sutherland’s actions were perceived as extremely forceful,” Housman said. “Mr. Sutherland attempted to coerce voters at the end of this presentation by standing there and waiting to what members perceived as him deeming enough people had voted before leaving this presentation”. 

Kayla Woodson, a representative of the Sutherland/Hudson campaign, said Sutherland did not mean to come off forcefully, and reached out to an executive member of the sorority following the meeting to apologize. The executive member reassured him there was no wrongdoing. 

Woodson read a testimony from one sorority member, where she clarified Sutheralnd said to vote for any campaign students felt represented them. 

“Based on testimony from Hadley Carmichael, she said ‘(Sutherland) specifically asked girls to vote even if their vote ‘is not for our ticket’ and encouraged them to choose individuals they believed would make the University of Kentucky a better place where students feel included,’” Woodson said.

Other campaigns also presented to student organizations during the polling period, but they did not distribute a QR code linked to the SGA ballot. 

The Haycraft/Niravong campaign and the Hornung/Marcus campaign also jointly filed Claim 12, which stated the Sutherland/Hudson campaign sent mass text messages and harassed potential voters. 

Sutherland had access to these personal phone numbers through his position as a chapter officer in his fraternity. 

“During the election day, vice presidential candidate Ms. Hudson utilized text messages to reach individuals who had not freely given their contact information to (the campaign).The right to privacy is strongly expressed in the UKSGA governing codes and this court’s precedent,” Housman said. 

Woodson said the main argument made against the Sutherland/Hudson campaign revolved around possible violations of FERPA, a federal law protecting students’ information and their rights to privacy. She argued the SGA did not have the standing to decide on FERPA issues. 

“Personal phone numbers (were) willingly provided and given to the (office of) fraternity and sorority life. This information is available to all members of the IFC community,” Woodson said. “It is not up to the court to decide if this is a FERPA violation or not. A FERPA violation is defined as the improper disclosure of information from an institution usually through an open records request. The Sutherland/Hudson (campaign) did not make an open request for this information provided by the University of Kentucky Registrar.” 

Vice presidential candidate Jason Marcus weighed in on the issue, speaking of his experience as an officer in his fraternity. 

“I’m also an operating office for my frat and in no way shape or form has it ever been made clear to use these to your advantage. It was very much protected information for the purpose of recruitment,” Marcus said.

In the SGA Governing Codes, University of Kentucky LIbraries are designated as a “campaign free zone” on election days. No campaign materials, including posters, flyers and banners, can be located in campaign free zones.

Claim 9, filed by Brooklyn Niravong and Patrick Haycraft, said a poster promoting the Sutherland/Hudson campaign remained posted in William T. Young library on Feb. 27 and Feb. 28 — both election days. 

Housman called the location of this poster a direct violation of the governing codes. 

“This act by the Sutherland/Hudson campaign directly contradicts the text and the spirit of the governing codes. By campaigning in a campaign free zone, this campaign subverted the intention of the legislature,” Housman said. 

She recalled earlier in the hearing when Sutherland said he personally oversaw the placement of every poster promoting his campaign. Housman said this demonstrated Sutherland knew a poster remained in the campaign free zone on an election day. 

“It is not out of the question at an institution of higher education for students to be frequenting the library and, because of this, it gave the campaign an unfair advantage,” she said. “This is clearly not allowed. The Sutherland/Hudson campaign had a duty to be sure these materials were not posted within a campaign free zone.”

Woodson said Sutherland and Hudson tried to run a fair campaign, but due to the fast growing nature of the election, this poster “slipped through the cracks.” She asked the court for leniency in their ruling, citing an absence of malice in the failure to remove the poster in question. 

The Haycraft/Niravong campaign also jointly filed Claim 10 along with the Hornung/Marcus campaign.

Housman, representing the petitioners, said the Sutherland/Hudson campaign created an “unauthorized polling location” in the Gatton College of Business and Economics. 

According to the claim, a public endorser of the Sutherland/Hudson campaign operated an electronic device for the purpose of polling in the college of business. They presented a phone background containing a QR code and endorsement of the Sutherland/Hudson campaign to students, which directed voters to SGA’s polling form. 

The petitioners said the person in question could have easily been mistaken for an SGA official. 

Housman called these actions “indefensible.”

“(The Sutherland/Hudson campaign) attempted to and did create an unauthorized polling location,” Housman said. “The polling locations that are authorized by the election board are conducted in almost an identical fashion in the way the respondents did in the case. While there is paper voting available at the election board polling locations, the main form of voting is a QR code.” 

Woodson disagreed about the nature of the individual’s representation, saying students know what official polling locations look like. 

“The communication given by the student government association pretty clearly expressed what a polling location is and where they are located following up to the election. They post signs and yard signs about where to find the polling locations,” Woodson said. 

Iman Ali, associate justice of the SGA Supreme Court, said Woodson’s explanation did not provide a “valid excuse” for the possible confusion among the student body.

The SGA Supreme Court found all of these claims to be violations of the SGA Governing Codes. The court allocated each violation 6 disqualification points, totalling to 24 disqualification points for the Sutherland/Hudson campaign.