How the SGA Election Commission and Student Judicial Board decided to disqualify presidential candidate Nigel Walton: Friends on the reviewal board and demands for campaign messages

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing investigation by The Signal into the Election Commission and Student Judicial Board’s management of this year’s SGA election. 

We recommend you read the second part of the investigation after this story:

“SGA Election Commission and Student Judicial Board mismanage election on several counts”

The Student Government Association Election Commission’s investigation into presidential candidate Nigel Walton’s actions resulted in more than just his disqualification. It also raised questions about how those investigations are conducted and if they are impartial. 

Both complaints submitted to the Election Commission against Walton that resulted in his disqualification were submitted by his opponent in the runoff race for university-wide SGA president, Kaelen Thomas, though it isn’t uncommon for competitors to file complaints.

As mentioned in a previous article by The Signal, the first complaint reported that Walton did not divulge the names of every member of his campaign staff. 

Walton admitted in his GroupMe, “#WaltonfortheWin” that he would not give up names to the Election Commission. 

“Also, I have to provide names … I’m not giving them everyone’s tho [sic],” he said in screenshots provided by Thomas in the complaint. 

In an interview with The Signal, Walton explained that he did not want to give everyone’s names because his GroupMe is filled with supporters as well, and he only felt it necessary to give the Election Commission the list of people who are actually working on his campaign. 

According to emails between Walton and members of the Election Commission, the Election Commission requested direct access to the GroupMe, to be added as members, instead of screenshots.  

Walton replied that he did not want to allow them access, for his “privacy and that of his campaign staff.”

Walton received in response an email from Speaker Pro Tempore and Election Commission board member Terry Fye, that Walton “[could not] interfere in any way with the election commission investigating a complaint.” 

Walton said that he also received a call from Fye, in which Fye told him, if he did not give him access to the GroupMe, he could be completely disqualified from the race.

In an interview with The Signal, Fye verified that this phone call did occur, and that he did tell Walton that if he did not give access to the GroupMe, it would be a violation. 

“[Walton] told me that he was concerned about his privacy, so I did tell him I would minimize my involvement,” Fye said.

Walton, with advice from counsel, gave the Election Commission members access to his account from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on April 2. 

Cassie Turner, SGA Election Commission Chair, said that the Election Commission did not ask Thomas how he received the screenshots submitted with the complaint from Walton’s GroupMe.

“The information from [Thomas] was submitted via the Election Complaint form and later authenticated by the Election Commission,” she said. 

This authentication was done when Turner and Fye accessed Walton’s GroupMe.

As Fye also said that the Election Commission requested access and not screenshots so they could, “prove that it was not doctored and that the comment [did] exist and the complaint was verified.”

According to SGA Atlanta Advisor Gail Sutton, candidates must comply with any request from the election commission, including allowing them access to a GroupMe.

The second complaint alleged that Walton attempted to bribe  one of the other two presidential candidates who did not make it to the runoff, Carlos Porter, for his support. The complaint mentioned that Walton was offering Porter the opportunity to work with him on a “pseudo-cabinet” in next year’s administration.

The Election Commission found that Walton violated Article 12, Section 2 of the SGA Election Code which prohibits candidates from falsifying campaign documents. 

They also found in reference to the second complaint that Walton violated Article 6D of the SGA Election Code, which states that “No person shall offer anything tangible or intangible of value or make any physical, emotional, or verbal threats to any voter to affect the student’s vote.” 

Walton said that he was not offering Porter a seat on a “pseudo cabinet.”

“I asked him ‘Will you join me?’ not, ‘Will you join the cabinet?’” he said. 

A screenshot of Instagram messages shows Porter asking Walton, “How would you specifically need my help? I’m still deciding if I am going to support a candidate.”

Walton responded, “To be honest, I just don’t need Perimeter students to vote for me, I need their perspective in the room. I don’t have the experience as a Perimeter student, but I need their voices in the room.”

Screenshots of the full conversation were provided by Walton to The Signal.

Although the complaint alleges Walton bribed Porter, Thomas filed the complaint, not Porter, according to the SGA complaint journal provided by the Election Commission. 

When asked if Turner or any other commission members asked Porter why he did not report Walton’s accused bribery himself, she responded, “No information regarding Carlos Porter was provided in the Election Complaint form submitted by Kaelen Thomas.”

Both complaints are considered Class A Violations, or serious offenses, which resulted in Walton’s disqualification from the run-off election.

When Walton appealed the Election Commission’s decisions with the Student Judicial Board on April 3, the appeal was denied the same day. 

SJB Chief Justice Gavin Hall said that the hearing for the appeal happened so quickly because everyone’s schedule allowed it. 

“There is no exact formula or requirement for how quickly the hearing panel can/must review the appeal,” Hall said. “In most cases, we ask for up to three days to review any appeal to allow for the student justices to find time to convene. In this case, the justices’ schedules allowed them to review the case that day, allowing for SJB to provide a more timely response.” 

The panel consisted of Dawnyale Allen, Richard Charles and Nicole Gipson. 

Allen, as a reviewer of the case and the Student Judicial Board SGA Liaison Chair, supported the decision by the election commission to disqualify Walton in his appeal case. 

According to sources, Allen and Thomas have a close relationship.

Allen posted a photo of herself with Thomas, on September 26, 2019 on her public Instagram. 

The caption reads, “Happy escape the womb day to my better working half. Mister Speaker (Atlanta Campus) it’s been a pleasure working alongside you thus far and I look forward to this year whatever the future has to entail.”

Other Instagram posts by former SGA Sen. Danny Mai also showed Thomas and Allen hanging out at a Georgia State football game.

Allen also used to work for SGA as the office assistant. An SGA official from the Atlanta campus said that during her time there, she spent much of her time in the office with Thomas.

“Their relationship was close to the point that I would consider them very close friends,” an SGA official said.

Hall said that he “did not personally know the extent of any relationship that student justices may or may not have with members of SGA or any other students/student organizations.”

He also added that “student justice training includes information about impartiality and objectivity to ensure that the facts of the case are accurately applied to the policy.”

According to Hall, justices do have the ability to recuse themselves and remove themselves from a case and they are aware of that option if they feel they have a relationship that will affect their decision on the case. 

“Every student justice has the opportunity and is encouraged to recuse themselves if they feel that they cannot make a decision without bias. Additionally, no single justice makes a decision on the appeal,” Hall said. 

When asked about the case and her relationships with SGA candidates, Allen declined to comment. 

“Unfortunately due to my own code of conduct, FERPA, and a few other things that regulate myself and the board I can’t make any comments,” she said in an email. 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. However, this case did not pertain to student records and therefore does not apply to FERPA regulations.

The Signal attempted to speak with Thomas directly and though he was not available, Ira Livnat, Thomas’ campaign manager, said he could speak on his behalf.

Ira Livnat, who is Thomas’ campaign manager, said that he could not speak on the relationship between Thomas and Allen but said that, “I know that the campaign has not had any contact with her during the election process.”

Livnat also said that Walton’s GroupMe screenshots were provided to them by someone from Walton’s campaign that did not feel comfortable submitting the complaint themselves due to fear of being attacked online. 

“Someone from Nigel’s campaign saw what exactly happened and what was said, and then sent it over the campaign because they realized that something suspicious was going on,” Livnat said.

When asked why Porter chose not to file the bribery complaint against Walton, Livnat said that he could not speak on what exactly Porter told the campaign or Thomas, but that “there was a sentiment of private support between one student to another.”

After that, there was conversation between Porter and Thomas about the messages that Walton sent. 

“When that was mentioned, it was decided that someone should file a complaint [against Walton],” Livnat said. 

He said that Porter expressed that he was “on the road” and could not file the complaint himself but ultimately “it was decided that someone should file a complaint [against Walton].”

Despite attempts by The Signal, Porter did not respond to a request to comment.