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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

SGA Supreme Court overturns NIU United sanctions

Emily Beebe
Deputy Speaker of the Senate Chris English (from left), Speaker Cole Hensley and Eddie Guerrero, the seat for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences attend the SGA Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday. The SGA Supreme Court held a hearing for members of the “NIU United” ticket who were accused of bribery and campaigning in the wrong areas during the SGA election. (Emily Beebe | Northern Star)

DeKALB –  The “NIU United” ticket will not be punished after the Student Government Association Supreme Court overturned two sanctions that formerly accused members of the ticket of bribery and improper campaigning.

The cases were back-to-back and began at 8:48 a.m. Wednesday in Room 405 of the Holmes Student Center.

The court was positioned to start at 8 a.m. However, it was pushed back due to a potential conflict of interest between the Chief Court Justice Elliot Weiskopf and Justice Tyler Murray and senators James Innis and Aidan O’Brien’s involvement in the fraternity Sigma Nu, along with the possibility of not meeting quorum. After deliberation, the justices decided they were able to pursue based on the court’s first amendment right to freedom of association.

The “NIU United” ticket, which consists of Ja’Kobe Jones, Innis, Ethan Pesavento and O’Brien, attended two cases involving complaints and accusations of improperly campaigning in residential buildings and “bribing” students with candy which violated SGA bylaws and a U.S. code.


The first complaint heard involved members of the “NIU United” ticket engaging in political canvassing in residential halls, primarily Patterson Hall East, West and Community Center. The complaint was that the political canvassing went against the University Housing and Residential Services handbook.

The NIU housing handbook states political canvassing is only permitted in the common lobbies, not residential floors, but the following article outlines how students can reserve tables for the purpose of canvassing.

Part II, Article 4, Section 6 of the SGA bylaws states candidates in violation of any university policy or federal state, county or municipality laws may be subject to sanctions. The complaint was questioned because members of the “NIU United” ticket had not requested tables, which tested university policy.

“We were politically canvassing in the lobbies of residence halls, and then it (the NIU housing handbook) says students have the right to reserve tables online for this purpose,” O’Brien said. “It says we have a right to reserve it, it’s not a requirement.”

At 10:17 a.m. the court voted unanimously to overturn the sanction because of the questionable phrasing of the table reservation requirement.

“The court finds that the matter of debate in this case lies in the phrase ‘NIU students can reserve tables online for the purpose of political canvassing,’” Weiskopf said. “The term ‘can’ in this regard leaves considerable doubt about the interpretation to which students can or must reserve a table in order to politically canvas on behalf of the political ticket for the Student Government Association elections.”


The second case accused the “NIU United” ticket of violating SGA bylaws including a U.S. Code for “bribing” students for votes with candy that was further not registered as a campaign expense.

Title 18 of U.S. Code Chapter 29, Section 597 – Expenditures to influence voting states if a candidate offers an expenditure or “bribes” another person to vote or hold their vote based on the candidate’s choice, then both parties can be fined or imprisoned not more than one year or both with additional imprisonment time if the bribery was known.

Additionally, members of the “NIU United” ticket were accused of breaking SGA bylaws Part II, Article 8, Section 2C which requires all candidates to submit a final financial report including all receipts and financial records by the first date of polling. The court claimed O’Brien omitted an $156.87 receipt from Walmart which included 15 bags of candy.

O’Brien argued irrefutable proof was needed that by offering candy to students the “NIU United” ticket was trying to sway students to vote for them.

“There needs to be proof beyond reasonable doubt by substantive way that the candy would not have been given to a student anyways,” O’Brien said. “There’s no evidence that any voter was bribed for a vote. The Board of Elections would need to provide evidence that without a doubt we forced voters to vote for our ticket in exchange for candy.”

The justices reviewed first-hand accounts and video evidence of students who had been approached by O’Brien and offered candy while listening to his campaign.

After an hour of deliberation, the justices agreed that members of the “NIU United” ticket had not violated the U.S. Code or SGA bylaws.

“In videos provided by the Board of Elections, we can see clearly depicted that members of the “NIU United” ticket were offering candy to all parties regardless of their willingness to vote,” Weiskopf said.

Weiskopf then announced election results would be released immediately following the court’s adjournment.

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