Student Government Association candidate Blake Hendricks was elected to be the next president of the SGA but was disqualified due to violations of the bylaws. Hendricks claims that he was not given due process by the Judicial Board and the SGA Bylaws are ineffective and unclear.
“I believe that I took the fall for SGA’s shortcomings,” Hendricks said in an interview with The Patriot.
Hendricks was charged with violating three bylaws: campaigning in the polling area on election day, wearing campaign material in the polling area, and overspending on his campaign. He has appealed this decision and submitted a seven-page document outlining his case, as well as a case against other candidates that he claims were also in violation of the bylaws.
Current SGA President Savannah Seely and SGA Advisor, Joshua Neaves, both confirm that Hendricks had a “candidacy meeting,” which ensures that candidates sit down with either the advisor or the president of SGA and go over election rules.
“Any confusing, question, or concerns are typically addressed during this meetings,” Neaves said. “SGA and myself are also very accessible. If there are any questions anyone is permitted to ask at any time. We always encourage students to ask instead of assuming. Asking in advance helps prevent violations.”
All candidates are asked to sign a statement saying that they understood the bylaws. Hendricks signed this paper, but in his appellate case, writes that “it was a lot at once and I was just ready to get [the meeting] over with so I could start planning.”
Seely conducted Hendricks’ meeting, and read the bylaws to him. Hendricks admits that he did not look at the bylaws, available on the SGA website and on the Canvas page for SGA senators, after the meeting.
Hendricks was seen and photographed in the polling area on Feb. 21 wearing his campaign shirt and speaking to Seely as well as members of his fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, at the polling table.
The SGA Rules Committee, headed by Parliamentarian Sean Coplen, a member of Delta Sigma Phi, determined that the polling area was from the front entrance to the top of the stairs that lead into the Met.
Hendricks is a part of the Rules Committee but says that due to scheduling conflicts, he was unable to attend meetings until after the election.
According to the complaints filed against Hendricks, several other candidates were within the polling area as well, including candidates Katie Hicken and other presidential candidates Joshua Menhennet and Jacob Mcleod. According to Seely, Hicken was on her laptop by the bookstore eating, and Menhennett passed through the polling area to reach to stairs going down to the Met.
“It was different from wearing campaign material and standing next to the polling table,” Seely said. “You can’t solicit and campaign in the area, it doesn’t mean you can’t be in there just doing things as a student. This is our student center. You can be present without campaigning.”
Hendricks was wearing his campaign shirt and spoke to Seely at the polling table. The SGA articles state, “Persons voting shall not be allowed to display any type of material containing a candidate’s name within the polling area.” Hendricks writes in his appellate case that he was “excited to wear the shirt” and that he “did not realize that it would be a violation if [he] wore it in a polling area.”
In his interview with The Patriot, Hendricks claimed that another candidate was in violation of this bylaw: Joshua Menhennett. Menhennett had purchased buttons for the campaign, and according to Hendricks, they were plainly visible on people’s clothing or backpacks within the polling area. Hendricks didn’t know if the buttons had been there previously, or if Menhennett had passed them out while in the polling area.
“It’s alarming to see what was enforced and what was not enforced,” Hendricks said, “I didn’t file any complaints [against other candidates]. I’m not the kind of person who’s going to go file a complaint.”
A Freedom of Information Act request found an email correspondence in which Hendricks told Neaves he was going to file a formal complaint against Seely. He writes in his appellate case that “[Seely’s] mere presence at the voting station was a form of campaigning” as she had been vocal in her support for Menhennett. Seely and Neaves dispute this. Seely followed a 2016 precedent in which President Alex Free openly endorsed candidate Divya Srinivasan and worked the polling table.
“It has been a common practice for students to work the polling both as long as they are not campaigning, running for office, or violating any of the rules outlined in the SGA election code,” Neaves wrote in an email. “All students have a right to their opinion and should be able to express it freely.”
Hendricks states that he was targeted, and he had “people who wanted to take pictures of [him]” breaking the rules. These people, Hendricks writes in his appellate case, include Hicken and McCleod, both of which he claims were in the polling area as well.
Hicken denies filing a formal complaint against Hendricks.
“[The appellate case] is a sad, tired attempt by Blake to blame other people for his own campaign violations that are clearly delineated in the SGA Bylaws because he’s an arrogant, conceited boy who doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions because he thinks he can do no wrong,” Hicken said in a Twitter message to The Patriot. “Pretty ironic that he campaigned on wanting to completely rewrite the constitution and bylaws but his campaign practices clearly indicated he’s never even read them.”
Hendricks writes in his appellate case that Neaves approached him twice to tell him to leave the polling area, once saying to “read the rules.”
“I contacted anyone that was or could be perceived to be violating campaign rules [in the polling area],” Neaves said in an email correspondence. “I provided advice as an advisor to help ensure that the rules were being followed.”
Hendricks said if he had known disqualification would be the consequence for wearing his shirt in the polling area, he would “not even stepped anywhere near that place.”
“Had the gravity of potential disqualification been leveraged against me, I would have removed the article of clothing immediately and would have left the premises,” Hendricks wrote in his case.
Hendricks was also charged with overspending on his campaign. In his interview with the Patriot, he said he spent roughly $600. The limit for campaign expenditures is $500. Hendricks said that much of his spending came from donations and that the bylaws don’t clearly define what is an expenditure and what is a donation.
“Items purchased for the purpose of the campaign either by the candidate or others, if used for the purpose of campaigning are applicable to the rules related to campaign finance limits,” Ona Tolliver, assistant vice president for student success and dean of students said in an email to Hendricks concerning his appellate case.
Hendricks was called before the SGA Judicial Board on Monday, Feb. 24 to answer questions about the complaints filed against him. Hendricks states in his appellate case that it was an abrupt phone call that happened at 8:00 a.m.
“‘Meet us in the next 10 minutes or we will have to reschedule,’” Hendricks writes in his appellate case, stating what the Judicial Board said to him. “I felt obligated to meet with them because, with the power they hold, if I had elected not to, they could have easily decided that it was not worth their time to meet with me in the future.”
The Judicial Board look at seven bylaw violations, but only charged Hendricks with three. The Judicial Board did decide not to allow Hendricks to be sworn into the presidency and decided to allow the candidate with the next highest percentage of votes to be sworn in instead.
The bylaws state that all Judicial Board hearings are final, but Hendricks appealed to Tolliver to have the findings reevaluated as he said he did not feel as though he had adequate time to prepare his case.
Tolliver granted the appeal and upheld the decisions made by the Judicial Board, but did repeal the voting in of the candidate with the highest votes. Instead, Tolliver decided to hold a run-off election.
“I appreciate the depth with which you have identified areas for improvement in both the governing documents and the election process,” Tolliver writes to Hendricks in an email that The Patriot obtained through a FOIA request, “I encourage you to address the items not directly related to the current elections process with the SGA Judicial Board. I also hope you will be a part of the process as the Rules Committee revises the Constitution and Bylaws moving forward.”
Hendricks kept his senator position and is currently working on revising the bylaws.
“We have never had this type of issue before; therefore, these bylaws have not been put to the test,” Neaves wrote in an email. “Some have already taken the steps to help make the documents better to help prevent this type of situation from happening again. With anything we do at the university, students will always be our top priority. When it comes to student issues, we always want to make sure we do what is fair [and] right.”
The runoff election will be held in April to elect the new SGA president. Hendricks is ineligible to run.