The Bush v. Gore of Student Government Elections

State judge bars University of Kentucky from swearing in the official winner of a contested race.
June 15, 2005

The student body president's race at the University of Kentucky is starting to look a little like another presidential race. The action is shifting from one court to another, with both sides claiming that the will of the voters may be ignored, and that procedures have been trampled. The judicial proceedings have now left the campus and landed in state court, where a judge on Tuesday barred the university from swearing in the official victor.

At issue is whether the university administration has the authority to be the final arbiter of appeals.

Will Nash defeated Becky Ellingsworth by 171 votes (out of thousands cast) in March, but Ellingsworth challenged the results, arguing that Nash violated various rules, including spending limits. There were also reports of campaign posters being torn down.

The case then went to the student government's judicial system, where first one board and then the Student Supreme Court threw out Nash's win, making Ellingsworth the new president. But Nash then appealed to a university appeals board, which found that the student government's judicial system was "fatally flawed" and recommended to the university administration that Nash be declared the winner since he had more votes.

The university did that, and Ellingsworth sued. The state judge who ruled in her favor today did not rule on the merits of the case, but blocked Nash from being sworn in, as had been scheduled today, until more hearings are held. The head of the student government at Kentucky also serves on the university's Board of Trustees, and Nash was to be officially welcomed to the board at a meeting today.

Ellingsworth's suit charges that the university must follow the decisions of the Student Supreme Court, which declared her the victor.

Although Ellingsworth won a round on Tuesday, the university is confident that its authority will be upheld.

A university spokesman noted that previous violations of election rules have been punished through community service requirements, not disqualification from election. "We were disappointed by the ruling today, but it has been and continues to be the university's position that we have the right to hear appeals from students, faculty and staff, and the university has the right to act on those appeals," he said.


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