Cobb/Mehta ticket denies violating campaign rules following decertification

Published October 12, 2023

Update: In a press release Thursday evening, Cobb and Mehta announced they would run again in the special election, writing that “they would not be doing their supporters due diligence if they did not.”

Jaden Cobb (CAS ’25) and Sanaa Mehta (SFS ’25) denied any wrongdoing in the GUSA executive election campaign in a press conference Tuesday evening, after the GUSA Senate voted on Sunday to decertify the results of last week’s election. The decertification vote set the course for a special election on Oct. 19 and 20, in which Cobb and Mehta said they have yet to decide whether they will run.

According to the Election Commission, Cobb and Mehta garnered 53.6 percent of the vote in last week’s election. They received 827 votes, beating the ticket of Saatvik Sunkavalli (SFS ’25) and Andrea Li (SFS ’26) with 389 votes and the ticket of Axel Abrica (CAS ’25) and Sebastian Cardena (CAS ’26) with 293 votes.

But on Sunday, the commission presented allegations to the Senate that the Cobb/Mehta ticket violated campaign rules by failing to put away electronic devices at their campaign table during the voting period, and other candidates reported failures in communication with the commission. Hearing this, the Senate voted to not certify the results of the election by a vote of 11 in favor and six against; the threshold to certify is a two-thirds majority.

“Six people took away 827 people’s votes, people’s voices,” Cobb said in an interview with the Voice and the Hoya. “This isn’t against Jaden and Sanaa. This is against GU272, who relies on institutional support, against GUPR, against vulnerable communities who rely on institutional support. Taken away, like that.”

“Everybody’s been saying, just run again, it’s no big deal. Even some students was like, ‘It was some flaws but y’all can run again, y’all most likely will win,’” he added. “We shouldn’t have to.”

Though the Cobb/Mehta campaign only received formal sanctions for the alleged tabling violation, other issues discussed in the decertification meeting included reports of hostility toward the Abrica/Cardena ticket from their campaign, as well as concerns shared by both losing tickets about inconsistencies in the Election Commission’s communication.

Cobb and Mehta sat down with the Voice and the Hoya Tuesday evening to discuss the allegations and the decertification vote. They denied violating any campaign rules and expressed that they were disheartened by Sunday’s events.

Tabling on Friday afternoon

Cobb and Mehta recounted tabling in Red Square on Friday, which was during the voting period. They had several volunteers and friends of the campaign with them that day, some of whom had laptops out and were studying, according to Cobb.

In the Sunday Senate meeting, Election Commissioner Pratik Jacob (CAS ’25) said that he approached the station on Friday afternoon and told them they should put away the electronics, because the commission could not be certain they were not being used to help students vote.

The commission showed GUSA photos and a video taken later that day showing electronics still on the Cobb/Mehta table. Although they could not determine if the electronics had been used to solicit votes, they ruled—citing video evidence wherein Cobb asks a student if they had voted—that the campaign’s actions violated GUSA by-law 16.04, which prohibits campaign-run voting stations with electronic devices. Because of this, the commission sanctioned the Cobb/Mehta campaign, demanding they suspend all campaign activities from Friday evening through the end of the voting period on Saturday evening.

In an email to Cobb and Mehta the next day reviewed by the Voice, the commission wrote, “Your ticket was informed on multiple occasions that voting stations are not allowed during Election Day.”

However, Cobb and Mehta categorically denied on Tuesday that their table was a voting station, saying that no student used any of their electronics to vote at any point. According to GUSA by-laws, regular campaign activities can continue during the voting period, including tabling in the presence of electronics. 

Additionally, they said that in two interactions with election commissioners on Friday afternoon, they were led to believe that the commission accepted this claim.

Cobb said they were first visited around noon by the commission, and when asked about the electronics, said that their friends were doing homework on the table, not facilitating voting. According to Cobb, Jacob said this was fine at the time.

Around 2 p.m., Abrica stopped by the table to say they should not have electronics, and in a video Abrica recorded of the encounter and the commission showed in the Sunday meeting, Cobb could be seen saying that he was told the electronics were fine.

Around ten minutes later, Jacob returned, this time saying that “maybe it’d be safer to put the electronics away,” Cobb recounted. Cobb said they did close their laptops promptly, and most of their friends moved elsewhere to study.

An hour or so later, a photo was taken and posted to the Cobb/Mehta campaign Instagram of both candidates posing with Crouton, a popular campus figure. As the Election Commission pointed out at the Sunday meeting, a laptop could be seen on the campaign table in that photo, though it was closed.

Cobb and Mehta acknowledged the closed laptop, but said it was not proof of any violation. 

“Not one person can come forward and be like, ‘I voted off of Sanaa’s laptop,’” Mehta said Tuesday. “Because that simply did not happen.”

The commission sanctioned them Friday evening despite an appeal from the Cobb/Mehta ticket, leaving them unable to campaign on the final day of the voting period. Cobb said that despite strongly disagreeing with the decision, they complied with the sanction and did not table, put up flyers, post on social media, or campaign further.

“We didn’t even text our friends to remind them about the vote,” Cobb said.

According to the commissioners at Sunday’s meeting, this was the only allegation for which they had proof, and because they deemed it unlikely to affect the overall winners, the Election Commission recommended the Senate certify the election. Data presented by the commissioners showed that less than 200 people voted during the window of the alleged tabling violations; with a margin of victory of more than 400 votes, the commissioners believed the outcome was unaffected.

Reports of hostility and threats

The commission also said it had received reports from the Abrica/Cardena ticket about hostility and threats from the Cobb/Mehta ticket. Because this conduct had more to do with individuals than the election itself, and because of the seriousness of the allegations, the commission recommended the allegations to the Office of Student Conduct (OSC). Current GUSA President Camber Vincent (SFS ’24) argued at the Sunday meeting that the Senate should not take the allegations into consideration in any way until OSC had come to a conclusion, at which point they should follow the suggestions of the university.

In an Instagram post on the Abrica/Cardena campaign page on Sunday, Abrica alleged harassment from “a member of the Cobb/Mehta ticket and one of their supporters” in an interaction on Oct. 3 on Lau 2. 

According to the post, the member of the ticket, which Cobb clarified on Tuesday was him, “accused the Abrica-Cardena ticket of spreading rumors that originated on platforms like Flok and Fizz.”

These rumors supposedly centered on Cobb supposedly taking undue credit for work such as Slavery Remembrance Day, Cobb said at the press conference. Abrica denied in the library confrontation that he and Cardena had any part in spreading them, according to both their Instagram and Cobb.

Kessley Janvier (CAS ’25), an organizer with Hoyas for Slavery Accountability (HASA), attended the Cobb/Mehta press conference on Tuesday. She said Cobb had been pivotal in organizing the Slavery Remembrance Day. She also said that she was the supporter mentioned in Abrica/Cardena’s post.

According to the post, “a supporter of the Cobb-Mehta ticket threatened the Abrica-Cardena ticket with a lack of cooperation between the Abrica-Cardena ticket and certain social justice organizations on campus if they were to win the election.”

Janvier acknowledged that she said something to that effect. She recalled that the comment had to do with a call she received from a reporter from the Voice, asking her if she had been in contact with Abrica/Cardena about their policy on the GU272.

On Sept. 30, the Voice conducted an interview with Abrica and Cardena for both its news coverage of the executive candidates and its editorial board’s endorsement article, as is conducted with every ticket. When asked about their policy on the GU272+, the candidates said they’d discussed it with Black student groups. When pressed on specifically who they talked to in HASA, Black Leadership Forum (BLF), or other groups, Cardena provided two names.

“We’ve been talking to Lukas, and of course, people like Kessley, who are in NAACP as well. We were talking to them a few days ago,” Cardena told the Voice on Sept. 30.

Lukas Soloman (SFS ’26) is a member of the Voice’s editorial board, among other positions. He talked with Cardena at various points in the campaign, but he is not involved in HASA, BLF, or any organizations that do slavery reconciliation work.

Soloman called Janvier to inquire about whether she had been consulted about the Abrica/Cardena GU272 policy, as Cardena claimed. In a phone call on Oct. 2, Janvier told him she had been messaged on Instagram once at the beginning of the semester by Abrica, who wanted to meet with her to discuss their policy.

On Tuesday, Janvier provided the Voice with documentation of Abrica’s message, and her response, in which she said he should email her. Janvier claimed she never received an email from Abrica, and never discussed GU272 policy with him or Cardena after that point.

Janvier said on Tuesday that when she approached Abrica in the library on Oct. 3, she asked him not to use her name when she had not been contacted and did not consult on their policy. She stated that Abrica denied name-dropping her, saying “we would never do that.” If her name did come up, it was only because they mentioned NAACP, whose Georgetown chapter she is the president of, Janvier recalled Abrica claiming.

“I feel like you’re lying to me,” Janvier recalled saying in response. “If I find out you’re lying to me, I’m going to find it incredibly difficult to work with you should you win the election.”

Janvier said that she felt this was an empty threat, as the organizations she leads are governed by majority and she could not unilaterally decide to cut ties with GUSA on their behalfs. She said it anyway, she said, because she was frustrated with them having evidently lied about her.

In their Sunday post, Abrica and Cardena also described having heard that the Cobb/Mehta ticket was using humiliating language about them in private contexts, such as saying “they look[ed] stupid during tabling sessions because they have no shot of winning.”

Cobb and Mehta unilaterally denied this, saying they would never use such language and adding that they were in fact worried throughout the election about the Abrica/Cardena ticket beating them.

When contacted by the Voice to provide his perspective on the Oct. 3 conversation and corroborate the allegations, Abrica declined to comment.

“I won’t be speaking to anyone regarding this matter except for the Office of Student Conduct, where I already have a case open,” he wrote in an email to the Voice on Wednesday.

Election Commission miscommunication

Sunkavalli, a current GUSA senator, spoke on behalf of his ticket and Abrica/Cardena’s during deliberations in Sunday’s meeting. He reported getting information from the commission that was not consistent with what Cobb/Mehta was told, and said that at some points they seemed to be intentionally vague.

He said that Abrica told him that on the same day Cobb and Mehta were being allowed to have electronics and flyers on their table, the commission had told Abrica/Cardena they could not have event flyers or campaign using the word “vote”.

The commission responded, saying that it was a regrettable error on their part. However, they noted again that they believe the number of votes received by each candidate during the tabling session on Friday would not have been enough to change the outcome of the election regardless of which way they fell.

Nonetheless, the Senate deemed this and the Cobb/Mehta campaign’s alleged violation a “serious procedural or technical error,” so the certification vote failed.

“The decision, we believe, came down to whether GUSA believes clear communication is a responsibility of the election commission,” Sunkavalli wrote to the Voice on behalf of his ticket. “Is it a serious procedural mistake for the EC to send biased messaging to candidates? With this decision, they set an expectation that it is. It also signaled that GUSA expects violations of campaign guidelines to be taken seriously, regardless of the commissioners’ own thoughts on the candidates.”

The election commissioners did not respond to emails for comment on the miscommunication as of Thursday afternoon.

Special election process begins Thursday

A mandatory information session, just like the one that began the first GUSA executive election last month, has been scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, according to an email from the Election Commission. Eligibility is open to all sophomores and juniors, not just those who ran in the first election, the email said.

As of Tuesday evening, Cobb and Mehta said they had not decided whether they would be running again. Though they won decisively, Mehta said that it was disheartening to see some senators laughing while the ‘no’ votes came in on the certification question on Sunday.

“Watching us kind of be ridiculed and laughed at on the call, that hurt a lot,” Mehta said. “Seeing people laugh at 827 votes after an exhausting two weeks is a whole different ball game, and that was what hurt so much, because it’s not funny.”

Cobb echoed the sentiment, adding that trust has to be rebuilt with senators, other candidates, and even between GUSA and the student body.

“We feel that before we can even think about running again, we have to fundamentally restore trust in the student body and amongst each other,” Cobb said. “Because we do not want to lead a broken Georgetown.”

Graham Krewinghaus
Graham is a junior in the College and the editor-in-chief for the Spring 2024 semester. He cares too much about the Boston Celtics, and the proper amount about the Georgetown Voice.

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