GUSA Senate election petition period extended, four senators drop from the race

September 16, 2020

Amid a slew of resignations and criticism of GUSA, the GUSA Senate extended the petition period for candidates to get on the ballot for the Senate elections beginning on Sept. 17 at their emergency meeting the night before. 

The postponement was the result of a late-hour demand from students from the class of 2023 to be added to the ballot after the initial petition period passed. In order to allow those individuals to run, the Senate voted 15-2 with three abstentions to add an additional 16 hours during which candidates could petition to get on the ballot—until 2 p.m. eastern time on Sept. 17. The online polls open at 10 p.m. eastern time on Thursday. 

Partially spurred by criticisms of GUSA for not representing the student body in a class group chat, these new candidates are mainly women of color and other individuals who feel the current Senate is not representative of the student body. The first departure from the race, from Sen. Zahra Wakilzada (SFS ’23), came late Tuesday and meant the upcoming election for the class of 2023 senators would be uncontested. Wakilzada cited the hostility of GUSA to women of color as one of the primary reasons for her choice not to run again for the Senate. GUSA has often been critiqued for its failure to incorporate members of a diverse set of identities, particularly women and people of color. 

Sen. Sofia Negrete-Retamales (SFS ’23) also announced her decision to drop out of the race, writing in a statement serving in the Senate was mentally taxing and she felt invalidated by fellow senators. Sen. Eric Bazail-Eimil (SFS ’23) also dropped out but did not cite reasons for his decision. Sen. Zach Volpe (SFS ’23) resigned in protest as Senate Ethics & Oversight Committee Chair and withdrew his candidacy for At-Large Senate on Sept. 17. 

The motion introduced by Sen. Leo Rassieur (COL ’23) extended the petition period for all election races. In order to successfully petition to get on the ballot, a candidate has to receive 50 undergraduate signatures by the end of the petition period. 

If elections had been held at the time of the meeting, two seats for the class of 2023 and one seat for the class of 2021 would have remained open, prompting another election. 

“These are not competitive elections,” Rassieur said when he introduced the measure. “There’s literally no choice, when people vote they’re not making a decision actually.” 

Makayla Jeffries (COL ’23), who is planning on petitioning to get on the ballot and run, spoke in favor of the resolution, citing her own initial hesitancy to run for the Senate. “All the women of color who come from the Senate have all these horrible toxic stories,” Jeffries said, citing her own identity as a Black woman. “It took a minute for me to decide that this is what I wanted to do but there’s work that needed to be done.”

Wakilzada pointed out the information sessions, which potential candidates must attend to run for Senate, were during move-in days for some people on-campus and could have conflicted with required COVID-19 testing. She cited a series of resolutions the Senate passed during the summer attempting to uphold marginalized students on campus. 

“Remember during the summer when we were preaching inclusivity and diversity?” Wakilzada asked. “Now those students want to speak up and lead themselves.” 

Negrete-Retamales pointed to additional factors that may have changed people’s calculations to run, including the departure of candidates from the race and the revelation of underlying internal criticisms of the Senate by current GUSA members. 

“We are here to voice the concerns of the student body and in this minute the concerns are there are not enough candidates on the ballot, there’s not enough actual competition for the seats,” said Negrete-Retamales “Resignations over campaigning, including myself, happened a day ago, two days ago, three days ago. There’s no way people would have known.” 

This message was echoed by students hoping to be added to the ballot, including Kariel Bennett (COL ’23). 

“Yesterday the truth came out about how toxic GUSA has been to women of color,” Bennett said, before turning to address the entire Senate “You’re not the only people on this campus. There are so many problems on this campus you have the power to change and you choose not to.”

Voicing concerns about the measure, Sen. Lucy Sonsalla (COL ‘23) said the elections had been planned since the spring and students had plenty of time to plan to run. 

“I think it is alarming to claim there was not enough time given for these considerations,” Sonsalla said. “I will probably vote for this measure because I believe we do represent our student body but to say there was not enough time to run is a fallacy.”

At the start of the meeting,  Volpe, who chairs the Ethics and Oversight Committee, presented concerns anyone running for reelection would be biased in the outcome of the vote. Volpe argued they should abstain from voting, which would have made it impossible for the bill to pass as 12 out of 22 senators were running for reelection. 

“There will be consequences for not abstaining,” he said, mentioning both a possibility incumbents would be barred from running and that their election would not be certified. 

In opposition to Volpe’s argument that running candidates should abstain for ethical reasons, Varsha Menon (SFS ‘21), the chair of the Election Commission, said she would not be disqualifying anyone who voted for the resolution from running. 

“If senators want to make this happen I will make that happen,” Menon said, referring to the extension of the petition period. “If anyone else wants to remove me, do it. It will make my life easier.” 

In the end, only Volpe and Sen. Henry Dai (SFS ’22) abstained, while Sens. Joshua Marín-Mora (SFS ’21), Julio Salmeron-Perla (SFS ’22), and Joseph Yacovone (COL ’22) voted no.  Dai and Yacavone are currently running for reelection, and Volpe was at the time. 

Despite arguments over the unconventional change to GUSA bylaws, the majority of senators concluded that since rules were made by the students, they could be changed too. 

“Rules are only good if they help people. That is our biggest criticism that we don’t help people,” Rassieur said. 

This article has been updated to include a statement from Negrete Retamales and  Volpe’s resignation.

Annemarie Cuccia
Annemarie is an avid Voice reader and former editor-in-chief. She hopes she left the magazine better than she found it.

Sarah Watson
Sarah is the former Spring 2022 Editor-in-Chief and a senior in the SFS studying Regional and Comparative Studies. She is a national park enthusiast and really just wants to talk about mountains.

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