The Georgetown University Student Association Election Commission postponed the release of the 2016 GUSA executive election results Friday, citing procedural issues that questioned the integrity of the election.
The race, which included the ticket of Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Chris Fisk (COL ’17) as the only ticket on the official ballot after the ticket of Tony Pezzullo (MSB ’17) and A.J. Serlemitsos (COL ’17) dropped out on Feb. 9, was contested by the write-in campaigns of Reed Howard (SFS ’17) and Courtney Maduike (SFS ’17) and the joke ticket of the Wisemiller’s Hot Chick and Chicken Madness sandwiches.
More than 33 percent of the undergraduate student body voted in the 2016 election, a total of around 2,500 voters. GUSA Election Commissioner Minji Doh (SFS ’19) was unable to confirm the official number of voters as of press time.
The 2016 election also included a referendum that asked students to vote between the current system of pre-registration and live registration, which resulted in 83 percent of students favoring the current system of pre-registration, 7 percent of students favoring live registration and 9 percent selecting no preference.
This year’s voter turnout of 33 percent is markedly lower than the 51 percent of students who voted last year, with 3,637 votes cast in the 2015 GUSA election, and 3,733 votes in 2013, an all-time election record.
The 2016 executive election is the first time in recent memory that a ticket has run unopposed on the official election ballot and the first time since 2008 that the Election Commission has delayed the release of election results. In the 2008 GUSA election, the Election Commission refused to certify the race’s results, resulting in a run-off election that determined the winning candidates.
According to Doh, the results of the election may be released after a special session of the GUSA senate on Friday or Saturday, where the procedural issues that the Election Commission raised will be presented.
“We’re not telling the senate our results when we’re going into the briefing. We’re getting checked on our procedures, and then if they say it’s okay then will release them right away,” Doh said.
Doh said the commission’s decision to delay the release of the results, which was made Thursday afternoon, was made to ensure that the election followed GUSA’s bylaws.
“We will be counting votes today but we will not be releasing results, and we will not tell the senate either,” Doh said. “The decision was made today, and we decided among ourselves to wait for the Senate’s hearing.”
GUSA Election Commissioner Grady Willard (SFS ’18) said that although the commissioners would not specify the procedural issues in question, the 2016 race’s inclusion of multiple write-in tickets may have influenced the procedural details of the election.
“Rather than get into the specifics, we would rather have the senate decide and make it a little fairer than us deciding,” Willard said. “It’s just different in the fact that there was one set of candidates who filed and there were many write-ins.”
Khan and Fisk, led by campaign manager Alex Bobroske (SFS ’17) and a campaign team of over 200 students — one of the largest in GUSA history — received endorsements from the editorial boards of The Hoya and The Georgetown Voice.
The Khan-Fisk ticket campaigned on a 23-issue, comprehensive platform that highlighted inclusivity, restructuring GUSA and socio-economic inclusion as the principal topics of their campaign. If elected, early priorities for the Khan-Fisk ticket include addressing campus dining quality and contract options, as well as campus planning and the D.C. Policing Bill that would extend the Georgetown University Police Department’s jurisdiction to outside the front gates.
The Howard-Maduike ticket, led by campaign manager Bserat Ghebremicael (MSB ’17), announced its write-in campaign Monday through social media and an informal town hall.
Howard and Maduike decided to run in response to news that the race was uncontested and that Khan would be in New York over the summer interning for Goldman Sachs, preventing Khan from fulfilling her presidential duties to stay on campus to interact with administrators and negotiate the campus plan.
Howard and Maduike appealed unsuccessfully to the Election Commission and GUSA Constitutional Council to be placed on the official ballot. The Howard-Maduike campaign focused on three core issues: college affordability, race issues on the Hilltop and advocacy on behalf of students on the 2017-2037 Campus Plan.
On Thursday — in response to a second petition from Howard and Maduike — the GUSA Constitutional Council ruled to include five write-in slots on the ballot, which in years past has only included one slot for write-in candidates.
GUSA Constitutional Council Chief Justice Josh Shinbrot (COL ’16) said that the unique circumstances of the 2016 election necessitated the addition of extra write-in slots.
“A ballot with one write-in slot would have severely limited student choice,” Shinbrot wrote in a message to The Hoya on Wednesday. “Given the ambiguity of the bylaws, the [Constitutional Council] chose to protect choice and instruct the [Election Commission] to add more write-in slots.”
Khan said the addition of five write-in slots to the ballot might have prompted the Election Commission’s decision Friday to delay the release of election results.
“I think it’s no surprise because there were five write-in slots. But this doesn’t change anything for us, we’re just happy to be together,” Khan said.
According to GUSA bylaw sections 14.03 and 13.14, the Election Commission is strongly suggested to report the results of the election the day after, but must report the results within 72 hours of the election’s conclusion. Additionally, the GUSA senate is required to confirm the results of the selection with a two-thirds majority, or vote for a new election to be held within two weeks.
In reaction to the postponement of election results, Howard said students should explore the reasons behind his and Maduike’s candidacy.
“I think Georgetown students are going to be much more interested in looking into the reasons behind why there was only one ticket, why another ticket decided to get into the race so late so that Georgetown students could have a viable credible alternative.”
Howard also questioned the validity of a senate confirmation on the results of the election, citing Khan’s position as speaker of the senate as a source of contention.
“I think it’s interesting that the senate would have to affirm the results of the election and Enushe is the speaker of that body, and everyone including the vice speaker has an incentive for them to win the election,” Howard said. “When we’re looking at the fairness in all of this, we have to consider the fact that institutionally everything points to favor Enushe. And I think that there are some significant problems with that.”
Maduike said the current election system places students who are not involved with GUSA at a disadvantage.
“These GUSA elections are skewed in favor of people who are already GUSA insiders. The way that the system is set up is not welcoming or easy for students outside of this GUSA system to fairly and effectively break in and bring in more voices like so many candidates have been saying for the past however many years,” Maduike said. “I think that’s something important to consider moving forward: that perhaps it’s the system itself that is broken, not the individuals making it so.”
Maduike also said write-in candidates, like her and Howard, were at a fundamental disadvantage because of the election commissioner’s rules.
“Write-in candidates were systematically disadvantaged from so-called ‘official candidates,’” Maduike said. “Any candidate who wants to exercise their right to be a leader on this campus, if they put in the work and they present themselves well, should not be disadvantaged just because of traditions and arbitrary rules that were set up that aren’t found in the bylaws.”
Howard also noted that specific formatting rules in voting may have prevented some write-in votes from being counted.
“The reason that I’m upset about the write-in formatting rules is that they’re gonna throw out votes from students who were just trying to have their voice represented, but might have misspelled a name or might have formatted something incorrectly,” Howard said. “I think that’s disrespectful to the Georgetown students who voted, and not consistent with the mission of GUSA to represent students.”
Samantha Granville (COL ’17), who serves as co-director of outreach for the Khan-Fisk ticket, said their campaign is hopeful for a positive result Sunday.
“I’m still really optimistic about everything. We worked really hard. I’m disappointed we are not going to know tonight, our adrenaline has been going for the past 48 hours for the final push,” Granville said. “I’m still really optimistic that it will turn out in our favor.”
Anirudha Vaddadi (SFS ’16), who serves as a translator for the Hot Chick-Chicken Madness ticket, said on behalf of the Chicken Madness sandwich that the campaign remains optimistic.
“I think it’s a good sign. I think it’s a very close race and the GUSA commissioners will consider candidates very closely. They would not have held off the election result until Sunday if it were an outright victory for [Enushe and Chris],” Vaddadi said. “We have been very patient this election and we want the right leader to be chosen.”
Hoya Staff Writers Syed Humza Moinuddin, Ian Scoville, Molly Cooke and Jack Lynch contributed reporting.