Eight hours before the GUSA presidential election began early Tuesday morning, the Election Commission disqualified two tickets from the race. At approximately 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, that decision was overturned by the Constitutional Council, a three-person board hastily appointed by the GUSA Senate to deal with the controversy. The Council ruled that there should be a new election including the disqualified candidates—Peter Dagher (MSB ’10) and Jeff Lamb (MSB ’10)—on the ballot.
Dagher and Lamb received e-mails from the Commission on Monday afternoon informing them that they had been disqualified for violating the Residence Life policy on flyering.
Election Commissioner Will Dreher (SFS ‘09) cited last-minute repeat violations of the campus flyering policy as the justification for the decision. According to Dreher, after most of the candidates violated the flyering policy once, the Election Commission sent out an e-mail to all of them warning that a second violation would result in their disqualification.
Many GUSA Senators and GUSA President Pat Dowd (SFS ‘09) came out against the Election Commission’s decision to disqualify the candidates, arguing the ruling violated the Senate’s bylaws, which state that the only grounds for a presidential candidate’s expulsion are exceeding $300 in campaign spending and setting up electronic voting stations.
“[The] Election Commission’s decision to disqualify the candidates is not within their authority and represents a gross overreaction because there is a very specific set of rules that they are supposed to enforce that merit disqualification if broken,” Dowd said. “It is not the Election Commission’s job to enforce the ResLife flyering policy.”
Most Senators said they would vote not to certify the results of the election. GUSA Speaker Reggie Greer (COL ‘09) said that the Senate was trying to avoid having to decertify the election and was hoping for a “fresh, new round of voting.”
At 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday evening, the Election Commission suspended the election with 5 hours and 14 minutes remaining in the voting period. The Commission posted a statement explaining their decisions to disqualify the two tickets and pause the election.
“We serve in order to oversee an election for GUSA,” the online notice said. “We wish to allow them to have the opportunity to decide how to proceed.”
The GUSA Senate held an emergency session Tuesday night, inviting the Election Commission and all eight Presidential candidates to attend. According to Greer, the main purpose of the meeting was to appoint three students to the Constitutional Council, a deliberating body that would hear out the candidates’ official complaints and decide how to proceed with the election.
The students that Dowd nominated and the Senate confirmed to the Constitutional Council are Andrew Mok (SFS ‘09), Shane Giuliani (SFS ‘09), and Justin Weiss (COL ‘09). They held a meeting on Wednesday evening to review the three official complaints submitted to them by Lamb, Dagher, and Josh Mogil (SFS ’11), a candidate who felt the Election Commission should not have suspended the election.
Addressing the Constitutional Council, Lamb reiterated his argument that the Election Commission stepped outside its bounds when it disqualified him, since they do not have the power to enforce University policy.
Dagher said he felt his campaign was singled out since other candidates had broken the rules just as often.
“[The Election Commission] said, ‘Your flyers are really noticeable. We didn’t know what other flyers looked like, so we didn’t know what to look for,’” Dagher said during the hearing.
At the hearing, Dreher addressed one of the most frequent concerns—that such a minor infraction would not have any bearing on the vote.
“People have asked us, do you really think it would have changed the outcome of the election? Well, yes,” Dreher said. “If there are eight tickets, the margin between the second- and third- place tickets could be 10 or 15 votes. If flyers are up in locations that other candidates didn’t flyer … that could affect the outcome.”
Dreher also argued that when GUSA bylaws and University policy are contradictory, it is ambiguous which should take precedence. Dreher and fellow Election Commissioner Fredrick Moore (COL ’09) said they had no strong feelings on how the Constitutional Council should decide. However, the third Election Commissioner, Sophia Behnia (COL ‘09), said that if the council allowed the disqualified candidates to run, they would be violating the Access to Benefits policy, which says that any group that breaks the University’s rules will be ineligible to receive benefits.
At 1:33 a.m. on Thursday morning, the Constitutional Council sent out an e-mail with its decision. Citing Bylaws 16.06 and 17.04, the Council ruled that “the E.C.’s disqualification of the ticket based on the violation of rules not explicitly stated in the Bylaws, such as a ‘flyering/posting policy violation,’ was outside of the E.C.’s authority.”
Senate Vice Speaker Nick Troiano (COL ‘11) was impressed with the verdict, saying he was glad they came to a decision that he sees as consistent with the bylaws.
Troiano did have one recommendation, however: that Behnia step down as Election Commissioner.
“In light of this decision, Sophia should resign immediately because, unlike the [other Commissioners], she should have known better,” Troiano said.
Greer and Troiano sent out an e-mail in support of the ruling, urging the Election Commission to hold a new election as quickly as possible. They hope to hold the election this Friday.