UPDATED: February 27, 3:28 a.m.
After nearly a week of controversy, the Georgetown University Student Association presidential Election will be held Friday, after Tuesday’s election was invalidated by the GUSA Constitutional Council yesterday.
The problems began late Monday night, when Election Commissioner Sophia Behnia (COL ’09) and Election Commission members Frederick Moore (COL ’09) and Will Dreher (SFS ’09) announced that they had disqualified presidential and vice presidential candidates Jeff Lamb (MSB ’10) and Molly Breen (MSB ’11) as well as Peter Dagher (MSB ’10) and Elias Ibrahim (MSB ’10) from running in Tuesday’s election for poster violations.
On Tuesday night, the Election Commission suspended the election at 6:45 p.m. until the controversy surrounding the disqualification of the two tickets was resolved.
In e-mails sent to the disqualified candidates, the commissioners said that the two pairs were disqualified due to a second violation in campaign poster placement. Lamb and Breen posters were found in the Intercultural Center as well as Darnall Hall, which violates residence hall posting policies. Dagher and Ibrahim posters were found improperly placed in O’Donovan Hall, Village B and New South Hall. But because the poster policy falls under the rules of the Office of Housing and Residence Life, the Election Commission was later told by the Constitutional Commission – which is responsible for addressing all issues relating to the election – that they were not empowered to disqualify candidates for any rule not specifically outlined in GUSA’s governing bylaws.
Early yesterday morning, the Constitutional Council invalidated Tuesday’s election, stating that a new election will be held with all eight of the original presidential tickets, including the two that the GUSA Election Commission had disqualified earlier this week.
The GUSA Senate then met Tuesday night to discuss students’ and candidates’ concerns regarding the disqualification. The senate also voted to fill vacancies on the GUSA Constitutional Council. After being nominated by GUSA President Pat Dowd (SFS ’09), Andrew Mok (SFS ’09), Shane Giuliani (SFS ’09) and Justin Weiss (COL ’09) were elected to the council.
“The Constitutional Council rules that the [Election Commission] is not authorized to disqualify candidates for violations of any rules not explicitly stated in the bylaws to the GUSA Constitution, pursuant to bylaw 16.06, which states, `No other restrictions other than those stated here [in bylaws 16.01-16.05] shall apply to campaigning,'” the Constitutional Council’s decision states. “Pursuant to bylaws 16.06 and 17.04, the [Election Commission’s] disqualification of the ticket based on the violation of rules not explicitly stated in the bylaws, such as a `flyering/posting policy violation,’ was outside of the E.C.’s authority.”
Senate Vice Speaker Nick Troiano (COL ’11) said that the Constitutional Council made the right decision.
“The senate acted quickly and decisively in setting up the Constitutional Council,” Troiano said. “Their decision was right on target.”
Yesterday, Behnia, Moore and Dreher resigned from their commission posts, leaving the three-person Election Commission vacant.
Behnia’s resignation is effective immediately, while Dreher and Moore plan to stay on until after the first round of the election is completed, Dowd said. The first round of the election will be completed 24 hours after the election begins. Because the election is using plurality voting, if no one ticket gets a majority of the vote – which is highly likely with eight tickets – a second election will be held between the two tickets that receive the greatest number of votes in the first round.
In an e-mail announcing her resignation, Behnia said that she respected the Constitutional Council’s decision to hold a new election but questioned senate leadership during the first election, citing “vast holes in [the senate’s] representation” and its disregard for university policy.
“As a group with access to benefits, GUSA and all of its members must abide by all university policies including the flyering/posting policy. The election bylaws do not ask this of the candidates; by signing their candidacy forms, these candidates become unofficial members of GUSA and are participating in an event sponsored by GUSA,” Behnia said. “As such, the candidates should abide by university policies. Since they refuse to do so, they again call into question GUSA’s access to benefits. I cannot be a part of an event that blatantly disregards university policy.”
Behnia said that candidates and the GUSA Senate should both be expected to abide by university policies.
“I strongly urge the candidates that were not originally disqualified to question the tactics that the GUSA Executives and Senate are using to sway this election,” Behnia said. “Finally, I urge the candidates to file complaints with the Center for Student Programs calling into question GUSA’s ability to retain access to benefits despite its blatant disregard for university policy.”
oore and Dreher wrote in an e-mail announcing their resignation that they could no longer fill their positions because of ineffective communication with the GUSA Senate’s leadership. They added that most members, including Greer and the GUSA Executive, were well intentioned in this process.
“Due to a lack of communication, which we take equal responsibility for, we were put in the position of having to administer an election while simultaneously sorting out what was just for those candidates who were disqualified,” Moore and Dreher stated in the e-mail. “We came to what we believe to be the fairest solution, but it was a far more protracted process than it had to be. We hope that GUSA can now have a fair election, one in which all candidates have equal access to the voters.”
Dowd reported that the election ballot is slated to be sent out to the student body by early Friday morning.
“I am writing to inform you that we are on track to send out the ballot for the 2009 GUSA presidential election this evening, with voting taking place for 24 hours following the receipt of the e-mail – which should go out late tonight/early tomorrow morning,” Dowd said. “This is possible thanks to the generous cooperation of Election Commissioners Dreher and Moore, who have decided to withhold their resignations for the time being in order to ensure that the first round of voting goes smoothly.”
Lamb, who was disqualified by the election commission earlier in the week, said in an e-mail that he was encouraged by the Constitutional Council’s decision.
“We believe that the senate, [GUSA] executives, Dowd and especially the newly formed Constitutional Council handled this adverse situation in a commendable way,” he said. “The members of GUSA carried out a swift and unbiased hearing and process and for that they should be commended by the entire student body.”
oore said that he stands by the original decision to disqualify the two tickets, as, at the time, he thought the Election Commission was upholding election rules.
“Our job was to enforce GUSA’s by laws. Unfortunately, we were never told specifically how we were to enforce them. We were never told the intent behind the by laws,” he said. “We were not told how to draw the line between university policies, which govern all students, and these bylaws.”
Brock Magruder (COL ’10), one of the presidential candidates, said that the problems with the election cannot be blamed simply on the Election Commission.
“[The Election Commission was] acting in their understanding of their role in the interest of fairness. The bylaws leave much to be desired and they had to make a judgment call,” Magruder said. “To blame this on them would be a selfish mistake by the candidates and the senate.”
Sean Hayes (MSB ’10) said he understands why Moore and Dreher resigned.
“Over the past few days as these events have unfolded, [Andrew Madorsky (MSB ’10)] and I have realized that GUSA is an even more dysfunctional organization than we ever imagined,” Hayes said.
Candidate Josh Mogil (SFS ’11) said that he was very disappointed in these recent events, confirming his belief that GUSA needs a total makeover.
“I think the whole situation is ridiculous. GUSA cannot even handle an election – how is it supposed to be the main advocate for the students. GUSA has lost a lot of legitimacy,” he said. “I support the outcome. All candidates deserve a chance to make their case to the students. I’m just sad that the process made students have to vote an extra time.”
Giuliani, Weiss, Cory Perkins (SFS `10), Joe McGroarty (COL ’10) and Dagher declined to comment for this report.
-Contributing writers Caitlin MacNeal, Elizabeth Rowe and Katie Kettle contributed to this report.
See GUSA Presidential Election Invalidated for continued coverage of GUSA 2009.