The Georgetown University Student Association senate voted this Sunday to confirm Sahil Nair (SFS ’19) and Naba Rahman (SFS ’19) as GUSA president and vice president, following their Feb. 22 election victory.
Outgoing GUSA President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) and Vice President Jessica Andino (COL ’18) are set to swear Nair and Rahman into office March 17.
Nair and Rahman defeated candidates Josh Sirois (SFS ’20) and Casey Doherty (COL ’20) by 36 votes in the fourth round of voting in last week’s elections. If no ticket receives a majority in the first round of voting, first-choice votes for the least successful candidate are redistributed to others until one ticket wins an outright majority.
The GUSA Election Commission initially delayed results to address concerns from Sirois and Doherty about Nair and Rahman’s campaign budget. The commission announced the fourth-round results via Twitter at about 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 23.
Sirois and Doherty alleged the winners had exceeded the $300 spending limit with their use of Snapchat filters and Facebook advertisements, according to GUSA Election Commissioner Grant Castle (SFS ’21).
“Josh’s campaign sent us an email saying that they believed the Snapchat filter that Sahil and Naba’s campaign was using was covering all of campus and had been for multiple days,” Castle said. “It was their belief that a Snapchat filter of this size and for that length of time would cost several hundred dollars, which would put them over the $300 campaign expense limit.”
The commissioners concluded campaign costs did not exceed $300 after talking with Nair, Rahman and their campaign manager Aaron Bennett (COL ’19) and examining their Snapchat receipts.
Castle said the filters Nair and Rahman’s campaign paid for did not cover all of campus for the entire length of the period. Instead they chose smaller, more specific spots on campus for a reduced amount of time.
“For example, they had it in Lau for three hours one day. They had it in Leo’s during two hours during peak dinner times,” Castle said. “It was determined by the Election Commission that the evidence that Sahil and Naba’s campaign presented was valid.”
After the commission unanimously recommended certification of results, the senate voted to do so. Twenty-six senators voted in favor, and one, Sirois, abstained.
GUSA Election Commissioner Grady Willard (SFS ’18) emphasized that the commission investigated complaints thoroughly.
“We thought it was very important to deliberately go through this and talk to both campaigns and even try and schedule future Snapchat filters and see what the cost would be like and make sure we got the documentation, because obviously the race ended up being very close,” Willard said.
Following complaints about candidates exceeding the campaign budget, Willard called on the senate to reform GUSA bylaws regarding social media use because candidates could capitalize on Snapchat’s imprecision to get more for their money. He suggested limiting or banning social media advertising, but left action to the senate’s discretion.
Willard also asked the senate to reform GUSA’s campaign finance system. Although he did not specifically accuse any campaigns, past or present, of violating the $300 spending limit, Willard said he believed some campaigns had “fudged the numbers.”
Both Willard and Castle said Snapchat filters are imprecise, and students can use them outside of the purchased area — accounting for screenshots of the filter beyond the range of Nair and Rahman’s maps.
“I do think the campaign finance system is broken,” Willard said. “Both of the top two campaigns spent around $299 and a little bit more. I’ve seen a ton of campaigns do this in the four years I’ve been on the election commission. I am pretty sure a substantial number of those campaigns — maybe they don’t realize it, maybe they do — have to have gone over.”
The Election Commission received eight complaints this year, according to the 2018 Complaint Registry for this year’s campaign, which is confidential until after the election.
No complaints resulted in disqualification, according to Willard. However, Nair and Rahman received warnings about campaigning before the official start date, and Sirois and Doherty received a warning about sending mass emails on the day of the election.
“We’ve tried to act in good faith and assume candidates made honest mistakes,” Willard said.
The senate revised campaign finance bylaws last year, according to Sylvia Levy (SFS ’18), the GUSA senate vice speaker. Changes required the public release of campaign finances no more than 24 hours after elections and forbade nonuniversity businesses from promoting candidates.
During its meeting, the senate also certified referendum results, which changed GUSA senate elections from geographic to class-based district representation and updated language in the GUSA bylaws, and certified Esmeralda Huerta’s (SFS ’18) senate election in the East Campus district.
GUSA Senate Speaker Ben Baldwin (SFS ’19) said the senate will consider further reforms on campaign finances. However, because of the successful referendum, they only have two meetings left as a body, during which they have to pass a $1 million budget allocating student activities fees and confirm Nair and Rahman’s cabinet.
“Our main priorities at this point are going to be passing the budget, and, of course, getting Sahil and Naba’s confirmations done,” Baldwin said. “They’re going to be nominating an entirely new executive cabinet, and we only have two more meetings to get that confirmed.”
Rahman said she and Nair plan to solicit applications for their cabinet starting this weekend. Nominees need unanimous confirmation from the senate to take office.
“We’ll be opening an application to join our cabinet this upcoming weekend and are encouraging everyone from experienced GUSA advocates to passionate campus leaders to consider joining! We’re doubling down on our goal of involving as many voices — especially new voices — as possible in our administration. Our Cabinet should be set and ready to get to work by March 25,” Rahman wrote in an email to The Hoya.