College Council (CC) voted to annul the presidential election by a result of 19-1-3 at an emergency meeting held last night.
The motion voids the 925-461 victory of Meghana Vunnamadala ’16 and Teddy Cohan ’16 over Grant Johnson ’17. Per Article VIII, Section 3k of the CC bylaws, new elections are to be held at the earliest convenience. The Election Supervisory Committee elaborated in a letter to the student body that, in the case of annulment, the committee would solicit new self-nominations for presidential or co-presidential tickets and hold a new election after two weeks of campaigning. CC will allow former tickets to run again in the new election.
“I have not yet made a decision on whether or not I’m running again,” Johnson said.
Cohan and Vunnamadala were understanding of the decision to annul. “I respect the decision of the annulment,” Cohan said. “I’m glad that CC ruled in the interest of the student body, which clearly felt uncomfortable with the election and its processes. I believe this will allow us to move forward and critically engage with how CC operates within our community. Going forward, I hope to continue serving this community that means so much to me,” Vunnamadala said.
Griffith Simon ’15 clarified during the meeting that students elected to CC for the 2015-16 term will have to forfeit their current seats to run for president because the CC Constitution prohibits students from seeking two offices at once. In the interim, Lia Lee ’17, vice president-elect for operations, will serve as president beginning with the joint meeting of CC tonight.
The emergency election was triggered by the Election Supervisory Committee, which found evidence that Vunnamadala and Cohan committed grievous wrongdoing and/or violations of the campaign rules during their last-minute campaign efforts. After six hours of deliberation concluding at 1:26 a.m. yesterday morning, the committee determined that texts sent by Vunnamadala constitute a violation of the CC election bylaws, “violations include but are not limited to the failure to adhere to campaign rules put forth in these bylaws, or other acts of bad faith (such as the destruction of campaign materials, deliberate misinformation etc.).” Vunnamadala admitted that the texts were an intentional tactic to garner votes and that she did not have any information about the voting. The committee also determined that the violations were grievous in that they compromised the “free and fair” nature of the elections guaranteed in Article VIII, Section 2a of the bylaws by misleading voters.
Per the bylaws, outgoing CC members make up the Election Supervisory Committee and one outgoing co-president chairs it. This year’s committee consisted of Erica Moszkowski ’15, co-president (chair, non-voting); Quinn Pitcher ’15, vp for academic affairs; Griffith Simon ’15, vp for student organizations; Ellen Finch ’16, vp for student affairs; Matthew McNaughton ’16, vp for operations; Alphayo Nyarera ’16, vp for community & diversity; and Emily Dzieciatko ’15, co-president.
In its investigation after the closure of the election, the Committee discovered that Dzieciatko sent a text message to Vunnamadala at 2 p.m. on Saturday, six hours before polls closed, which read, “I’m not supposed to be telling you guys this, but you really need to get more people to vote for you before elections close. You can do it! 6 more hours!”
An email to the student body yesterday morning stated that the committee determined “Dzieciatko’s actions do not a constitute a violation of any CC bylaws.” The committee’s letter to the student body was approved at 3:09 a.m. and emailed at 10:22 a.m.
Dzieciatko echoed this in an apology she delivered at the 8 p.m. emergency meeting last night. CC needed to move the meeting from Hopkins 001, the usually location of its weekly meetings, to Goodrich Hall due to the large number of students in attendance.
“First of all, I would like to start with, I am so sorry. I know that my actions were wrong and I should not have texted [Vunnamadala] and [Cohan] on Saturday afternoon. My intention, though misguided, was to support the ticket that at that point I thought was best suited to take on the job of co-president[s]. This was a selfish and foolish act … I hope this has not overshadowed my love for Williams or my desire, past and present, to make it a better place. Thank you and, again, I’m sorry,” Dzieciatko said.
Dzieciatko recused herself from the Election Supervisory Committee’s deliberations on Monday night and yesterday morning. The other members voted 4-1-0 in favor of recommending annulment to the entire Council. Simon, the dissenting member, voiced his concerns at the emergency meeting.
“We’re here now not to determine if that was a violation but if it was a grievous one. … In order to be thorough and fair, we met with [Cohan] and [Vunnamadala] last night. [Vunnamadala] said only three of these texts said they were losing the election … I do not believe this is severe enough to warrant annulment of the entire election as the rest of the election was fair and unbiased. Had [Vunnamadala] tried to deliberately mislead the student body then this might be grounds for a more serious punishment but this is not the case.”
In light of student reactions to a photo of Cohan dressed as a member of a mariachi band, Moszkowski stressed that the meeting was to determine if there was a serious violation of the bylaws, not to judge the candidates.
“‘I’m worried people are not able to separate [Cohan] the CC co-president elect and [Cohan] the Mensch Who Made an Insensitive Mistake, and that this will affect the discussion tonight.’” Funmi Adejobi ’17 said, speaking on behalf of another student. “‘I hope people will turn to the current co-presidents of CC to explain themselves. The only ones acting in bad faith were [Dzieciatko] and [Moszkowski] by playing their prank on this ticket.’”
Others agreed to place blame on Dzieciatko. “I don’t think we can pin the problem of misinformation all on [Cohan] and [Vunnamadala]. They got this information and used it. … [Cohan] and [Vunnamadala] didn’t seek out this information to abuse it,” Lucas Elek ’17 said. “There needs to be some sort of action against [Dzieciatko] because she passed down this info as well and it’s unfair to only target the people who are on the current ballot rather than look at this holistically.”
Members also tried to not to let the student body’s general frustration with CC influence them.
“I’m concerned that we’re using this event to mend what is a broken relationship between CC and the student body. But the question at hand is in the spirit of this bylaw – did they act egregiously? I think the point was to get voters out, not slander [Johnson], which is the spirit of why the bylaw was written, so it would be more appropriate to reduce the vote count,” Jesper Bodd ’15 said.
Moszkowski made public that the vote count stood at 843-410 in favor of Cohan and Vunnamadala on Saturday at noon. If they were to discount the votes Cohan and Vunnamadala received between then and 8 p.m., the time in which the texts were sent, they would still defeat Johnson.
A straw poll initially showed that 17 of CC’s 23-person voting body supported annulment, as did the vast majority of students present at the meeting.
CC struggled to define conflict of interest in determining who should abstain from voting. One student in attendance, Allison Wu ’16, suggested that members planning to run for president in a new election should abstain. Treasurer, Victoria Onuzuruike ’17, deemed this amendment unfriendly to her motion to annul the election, but CC voted 11-11-1 to continue discussion. The binding vote was on a motion by Emily Fox ’15 to annul the election, to which the amendment was deemed friendly. The motion passed with only Bodd opposed and Jochebed Bogunjoko ’16, Vunnamadala and Lee abstaining. No members indicated that they would run for president.
CC also considered voting to propose a referendum to annul that the student body would vote on, but that would require an additional two weeks of publicity before a vote to annul in addition to the two weeks of campaigning.