Calling for a re-election

We at the Record believe that College Council (CC) co-president elects Teddy Cohan ’16 and Meghana Vunnamadala ’16 violated the CC bylaws by deliberately misinforming the student population, in sending messages to multiple students claiming that they were losing the race on the final day of the election.

Although the candidates have since clarified that they did not, in fact, have premature inside information about the results, they still intentionally misled the community in order to garner additional votes and therefore failed to adhere to the election procedures and campaigning guidelines, as outlined by CC.

Although the candidates only employed this tactic on the final day of the polls and election results suggest that it did not influence the results of the election, this doesn’t change the fact that they provided false and misleading information. In the light of this committed infraction, the timing and actual impact of their actions is irrelevant.

We recommend that the Election Supervisory Committee review the candidates’ campaign strategies to determine an appropriate response to this infraction. However, the Record believes that the current committee composition is inherently biased towards current and past members of CC and should be changed in order to ensure they arrive at a fair ruling in future cases.

The current composition of the committee creates a conflict of interest, as CC electoral candidates often serve on CC before seeking office and may therefore have formed close relationships with the students sitting on the committee. The present case in particular highlights the chance for bias within the committee, seeing as Cohan and Vunnamadala have both served on CC in the past. As a result, in this case, the committee could potentially treat Cohan and Vunnamadala differently than they might treat future candidates without immediate CC ties, were they in the same situation.

In order to improve this system, we urge CC to amend its current bylaws to create a more diverse Election Supervisory Committee. The Record sees two potential options to help eliminate biases. First, CC could create a jury duty system that randomly pools from the student body. In this situation, the outgoing presidents would still sit on the committee. However, by randomly selecting group membership, CC would reduce the possibility of group connections affecting the committee’s decision.

Alternatively, we suggest that the committee could be made up of the outgoing CC presidents in addition to representative leaders from student groups. Although the College is a small community and we acknowledge that biases are inevitable in many cases, by drawing from a wider variety of campus groups, the committee would be less likely to make a biased ruling.

Furthermore, we at the Record believe the fact that the final rulings on an election’s annulment or on a disqualified candidate’s appeal go to full council for a vote is not only inherently biased, but also indicative of a larger, underlying issue in general CC functioning.

Self-nominations for CC elections are solicited from the full student body, and elections are open to the student body. As such, we believe that a fundamentally unbiased representation of the student body should have a say when it comes to passing judgement on infractions made during CC campaigns. Not only does restricting this power to former members of CC create a bias, the student body is robbed of the power they hold during the election – a power we believe they should hold even after election results are released.

We at the Record believe that this detail of CC functioning may signal a more diffuse attitude that the only students who are encouraged to participate in elections or other CC functions are those with past CC experience. We assert that these should be examined and reevaluated if CC is to represent an experience more fully inclusive of the student body at large.

We recommend that the committee and CC vote to annul this spring’s presidential election results. Regardless of the impact the deliberate misinformation provided by Cohan and Vunnamadala may have had on election results, we believe that as a matter of principle, it would be dishonest and a disservice to the student body to allow the results to remain as-is. Students should be able to make accurately informed decisions about the candidates and the election before casting their final vote, and the campaign tactic employed by Cohan and Vunnamadala made this impossible.

Therefore, in order to ensure that students are able to make informed decisions, the Record calls for the Election Supervisory Committee to issue an annulment, which by CC bylaws would force a re-election.

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The following editorial was written on March 3rd, 2015 to serve as an addendum to the above, and takes into account new developments.

In light of yesterday’s statement from the Elections Supervisory Committee, we stand by our previous statement that Vunnamadala and Cohan violated the CC bylaws. Whether or not the presidents elect were led to believe the information they received in a text message from CC co-president Emily Dzieciatko ’15 to be true, the fact that they would share this potential inside information with the community is still an act of bad faith and thus a violation of the bylaws.

Furthermore, we disagree with the committee’s claim that the actions of Dzieciatko were not in violation of CC’s bylaws. As a member of the committee, Dzieciatko was in a position of power over the CC electoral candidates. Thus, her text message to Vunnamadala and Cohan was an abuse of her position on the committee. Dzieciatko’s text message to Vunnamadala and Cohan was both unfair and misleading to the candidates who were running and also conflicted with her duty to “ensure that the campus-wide elections are free and fair,” as mandated in the CC bylaws.

In light of Dzieciatko’s actions, we call upon the Elections Supervisory Committee to amend its statement to say that she did in fact violate CC’s bylaws and hold her accountable for her actions. Additionally, we ask that the other members of the committee call for Dzieciatko’s resignation from the committee in the upcoming re-election.

This misuse of power and violation of the bylaws further reflects the flaws the Record previously highlighted in the current election system and need for an independent Elections Supervisory Committee. In addition, there should be rules in place restricting future committee members from endorsing candidates or communicating with candidates about the election while voting is underway. With a less biased committee and better rules about monitoring elections and maintaining confidentiality in place, both candidates and committee members could be better held accountable for their actions in future elections.