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The Battalion

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Newton under fire

Election+Commissioner+Yasawi+Gogineni+speaks+at+the+A%26amp%3BM+Judicial+Court+on+Wednesday%2C+March+23%2C+2023.
Photo by Ahsan Yahya

Election Commissioner Yasawi Gogineni speaks at the A&M Judicial Court on Wednesday, March 23, 2023.

On Wednesday, March 22, biomedical sciences junior Christian Newton orally argued against public health sophomore and Election Commissioner Yasaswi Gogineni regarding his disqualification in the 2023-24 student body president election in front of the Texas A&M Judicial Court. 

Newton was disqualified as a student body president candidate on March 3 for allegedly violating Article VI, section III of the spring 2023 Election Regulations. Specifically, violations #46 and #47 accused Newton of falsifying documents regarding $21 in donated supplies from multiple fake shell companies including “Devin’s Price is Right Store,” “Kylee’s Sorority Supplies” and “Pedram’s Playhouse.” 

The A&M Student Government Association, or SGA, originally provided four points of reason for the disqualification of Newton, which have since been removed from the reported violation spreadsheet: 

“With the conglomeration of the identical invoices, 2 of which have identical customer ID’s (invoices 5 & 7), it can be deduced that the invoices were not created by three separate vendors as was stated.

After further investigation, the Commission has also concluded that the invoices (most notably, invoice 5) were created after the items were utilized in campaign material. They were not sold prior to their usage. Therefore, these items are ‘donated material.’ According to Article VII. Section 1. (b) (3) All donated materials are to be expensed at fair market value, regardless of quality. There are over 20 items that should have been expensed at Fair Market Value.

Rather than a single instance, after viewing the multiple invoices, it was deemed that over 20 purchases were intentionally and substantially undervalued for the purpose of undermining the equal budget given to all candidates and transparency of the elections.

With the conglomeration of the three invoices, and the status of the items being ‘donated material’ rather than ‘purchased material’, the Commission is provided with ample evidence that the candidate has, on multiple occasions, abused the financial fairness of the fair market value and elections process.”

Judge Advocate General Richa Shah began with 12 minutes of opening remarks on behalf of Newton and argued against the justifications for Newton’s disqualification. 

“The first [justification] being that there’s a conglomeration of the identical invoices, however, the invoices are not identical,” Shah said. “The information on them is different. Do two of them use the same template? Absolutely.” 

Shah went on to defend Newton against the other justifications and claimed her client did not break any election regulations with his submission of the invoices.

In return, Judge Advocate General and respondent Jose Portela III claimed the election commission upheld a free and fair election by determining the invoices submitted by Newton were unethical. 

“If you aren’t to side with the petition on this, think about the precedent that sets down the line,” Portela said. “How can this system be used? I could, in essence, buy $2,000 worth the limit for a student body president worth in items from one person for $1, because that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing a use and manipulation of the system.” 

During Portela’s speech, Gogineni was questioned by the justices about what aspects of Newton’s invoices raised red flags. Gogineni mentioned the beads, hat collection, t-shirt collection, sunglasses, feathered boas and sorority letters purchased from Kylee’s Sorority Supplies that were listed on one line, rather than as separate items. 

“All of that should have been individual lines with individual prices,” Gogineni said. “That’s what you find in normal receipts from Walmart or Hobby Lobby, you don’t … buy things in bulk and expense it all.” 

Following Portela, Fawaz Syed also testified on behalf of Newton and argued the date of purchase for an item after the date of usage was not a violation of election regulations. Syed also claimed Newton has suffered damage to his name due to the commissioner’s claims. 

“That is why we come before the judicial court to ensure there is not just the petitioner saying things, but having the judicial courts backing that he did follow the rules as written in the law,” Syed said. 

In his rebuttal, Portela repeated his point from earlier that the election commissioner is a non-voting member in violation decisions, but it is instead decided on by the commission as a whole. 

“We’ve heard so much fear-mongering about the power that the election commissioner would have if we stay with this decision, but that’s not true,” Portela said. “It’s just simply not.”

Referencing the separate instances of disunified facts, Portela said the commission came to a conclusion the reports submitted by Newton were unethical and violated the free and fair nature of the elections. 

“We have a bunch of puzzle pieces, and we need to put them together,” Portela said. “We have missing names and signatures. We have numbers and spaces left blank. We have figures that are simply incorrect or wrong. We have dates, which are all lining up at the same time. We’re missing tax, which is either an omission of tax and the document is wrong, or they’re committing a crime against the state of Texas.”

During the closing statements, Shah argued Newton’s previous experience as class president makes him aware of the election rules and asked the court to reverse the charge of disqualification.  

“Christian Newton has been chosen as class president more than once for a reason,” Shah said. “He plays by the election rules and ensures that he serves the student body to the best of his ability. Newton is no stranger to the election regulations.”

Gogineni took the stand for closing remarks and stated Newton did not uphold election regulations with the submission of his financial records. The election commission will make necessary approaches to rectifying any holes in the regulations that may have led to issues. 

“At the end of the day, the election commission exists to enforce fairness into the elections, and the extent to which this was done is not fair to any of the other candidates in this election,” Gogineni said.

 

Editor’s Note: Richa Shah is a life & arts writer for The Battalion but was not involved in the writing, editing or publication of this article.

 

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