Mistake alters election

By the

February 8, 2001

Will Cosmas (CAS ‘01), Georgetown University Student Association Election Commissioner is filing a formal complaint with the Student Activities Commission against the student-run Saxa Server. The Server, which ran Friday’s GUSA Special Election, allegedly altered the online ballot for the Student Activities Funding Referendum in a biased and inaccurate manner.
The official Student Activities Funding referendum, which was approved by all but one member of the GUSA Assembly last week, gives a short description of the five-page funding proposal. It specifies that money for a student activities endowment would be raised by designating $3 million to the University’s Third Century Campaign and by implementing a Student Activities Fee as part of the tuition increase scheduled for the 2001-2002 school year. Students were to respond yes or no to the statement, ” I support a fundraising goal of $3,000,000 for a Student Activities Endowment and a Student Activities Fee included in the pending tuition increase as defined above.”
For the first 30 minutes of the election, though, an alternate wording of the referendum appeared on the ballot, according to Cosmas. Additionally, Cosmas said, the e-mail sent to students Friday morning provided a link to the Saxa Server ballot had been altered from its original form, which was written by Cosmas.
Saxa Server’s rewritten version of the e-mail said, “In essence, this plan asks to raise each student’s tuition to more-properly funded on-campus student groups.”
“They said that you were voting for a tuition increase on the ballot,” he said, “which was not true.” According to Cosmas, a tuition increase had already been approved by the administration prior to the election.
The referendum would have no impact on the tuition increase itself, Cosmas said, rather, students were deciding whether a student-activities fee would be included as a portion of the tuition increase.
Marty LaFalce (CAS ‘03), one of the authors of the funding proposal, detected the problem with the ballot and alerted Saxa Server to the problem. Steve Schohn(CAS ‘02), one of the heads of the server, changed the wording immediately in response to LaFalce’s complaint. Schohn and Dave Linsalata (CAS ‘01) sent a letter of apology to Cosmas on Friday, as well.
According to Schohn, the problem was merely one of miscommunication. “[The ballot statement] was more or less a summary when they wanted exact text,” Schohn said.
Cosmas disagreed. “The fact of the matter is that what they put out was negative, he said. “They said things that were untrue about the referendum. Online it was very misleading.”
Cosmas said that he sent two e-mails to Saxa Server that were to be forwarded to the student body. One of the e-mails addressed the Junior Class Representative election, and the other addressed the referendum.
According to Cosmas, Saxa Server said that they did not want to send two different e-mails to the members of the junior class, so they consolidated the two e-mails into one. However, Cosmas said that the content of his message was altered significantly. The e-mails he had forwarded to Saxa Server had been signed by him; however, the e-mails that Saxa Server sent to students Friday morning was signed, “Georgetown University Student Association.”
“I tried to make [the message]as impartial as possible, but hey totally changed what I wrote,” Cosmas said. “Under the guise of editorial discretion they put in things that were inaccurate and were actually pretty biased.”
Cosmas met with Director of Student Organizations Martha Swanson and Terry Platchek (CAS ‘01), head of the Student Activities Commission, to discuss the issue.
“We figured that the best course of action would be to file a formal complaint against Saxa … My ideal would be that there is some sort of assurance ? that this won’t happen again.” Cosmas said. “And that if it happens again, there could be serious repercussions.”
Nevertheless, Cosmas said the election proceeded smoothly in all other respects. “To their credit, it’s a huge job, it’s a valuable service,” he said.
“This election ran by far the smoothest of all the elections we’ve had online,” according to Schohn. Last year’s representative elections and the October first-year representative elections were also conducted via the web.
Just under 26 percent of Georgetown students turned out for Friday’s elections, voting overwhelmingly in favor of passing the Student Activities Funding Referendum. 1,066 students voted in favor of the proposal, while 350 students voted against it. Sixty no-votes were recorded.
Catie Sheehan (CAS ‘01), one of the authors of the proposal, said, “We were hoping for at least 25 percent turnout, we got 26 percent … It’s not perfect, and it’s not an absolute yes for [the proposal], but if students were really against this fee, they would have made sure they voted.”
The proposal will be presented in front of the Main Campus Planning Committee Friday. The committee will discuss the proposal, and Brown will make the final decision on whether it will be presented before the Board of Directors for the final step in the approval process. Potential concerns of the Planning Committee may focus on the process of allocating the new money and the possible proliferation of new student groups due to the influx of increased activities funding, according to LaFalce.
“We’re confident that we will get the support of the [Planning Committee] because we’ve been working very closely with [University Provost Dorothy] Brown.” LaFalce said.
According to Brown, the funding proposal will almost certainly move forward.
“We will plan to implement it next year,” she said. We will keep doing that, unless there is a student response that says, ‘We’ve got a better idea.’”
If approved by the Planning Committee, the proposal will be presented to the Board of Directors on Feb. 15, when they will also vote on the 2001-2002 school year tuition increase.
In a usual year, the Funding Board set up by the proposal to allocate the new money would begin operation on Feb. 1; however, due to the timing of the election, the board will start up slightly later this year. The seven voting members of the board will be the heads of the six activity funding boards and the GUSA President. Head of Volunteer and Public Services Alyssa Noto (CAS ‘01), Head of Club Sports Eddie Ferrer (MSB ‘02), Head of the Media Board Bill Jarvis (MSB 02), Head of the Georgetown Program Board Randy Rivera (CAS ‘02), chair of the Student Activities Commission Platchek and Student Association President Tawan Davis (CAS ‘01) will serve on this year’s board. Additionally, three members of the Student Association Assembly will serve on the board.

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