As the five tickets campaign for the Georgetown University Student Association executive position, hundreds of fliers and social media blasts will go up, seemingly countless meet-and-greets will be held and thousands of doors will be knocked on.
Three election commissioners — Pavan Rajgopal (SFS ’14), Alden Fletcher (SFS ’17) and Grady Willard (SFS ’18) — are responsible for making sure these campaign activities all adhere to standards.
According to his LinkedIn account, Rajgopal graduated from Georgetown in December 2014. He remains a non-voting election commissioner, and provides advice and support to the Fletcher and Willard. GUSA President and Vice President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) and Omika Jikaria (SFS ’15) allowed Rajgopal to remain on the commission since, firstly, it would be difficult and unreasonable to find a commissioner with enough knowledge in such a short time period after Rajgopal’s graduation, and secondly, because Rajgopal is the only member of the team with previous experience in a GUSA executive election.
The GUSA Election Commission enforces all GUSA bylaws during elections and audits the campaigns upon suspicion of broken rules.
“[The Election Commission members] are supposed to audit the candidates’ campaigns and make sure they’re within their spending limits, not fliering in places they’re not supposed to be. And if they find a candidate has violated those regulations, they are then supposed to issue sanctions,” GUSA Constitutional Council Chief Justice Josh Shinbrot (COL ’16) said.
The GUSA Constitutional Council oversees and regulates the Election Commission to ensure fair elections and is composed of three justices, who are charged with interpreting the bylaws and regulations of GUSA. These justices are appointed by the GUSA president and are tenured for the length of their undergraduate years. The Constitutional Council is the final board of appeals in all GUSA matters and its decisions are binding.
The Election Commission, on the other hand, strictly exists for the purpose of overseeing elections, and its members are also appointed by the GUSA president and tenured for the duration of their undergraduate career.
The commission moderates two information sessions before each GUSA executive race in order to go over election rules and requirements and closely oversees and communicates with candidates throughout the campaign period. In addition, the commission moderates two debates, which this year will occur on Feb. 11 and Feb. 16. They set time limits for the entirety of the debate including opening and closing statements and manage campus media and student questions throughout the events.
The Election Commission also plays a crucial role in the voting process.
“We count the votes and make sure that whole process goes smoothly,” Willard said.
Sanctions imposed by the Election Commission include anything from listing a candidate on the ballot below the write-in section to striking a candidate from the election altogether. Potential infractions include spending over the $300 limit on campaigning, campaigning before the official start of the season and setting up a campaign-sponsored electronic voting booth or locations on campus.
“It’s been at least four years since the election commission has actually sanctioned a candidate,” Shinbrot said. “I think 2009 was the last time someone was struck from the ballot, so it’s been a while.”
In February 2009, two GUSA executive tickets were disqualified by the Election Commission for poster violations. However, the Constitutional Council invalidated the ruling, the Election Commission members resigned and a new election with all eight original tickets and new election commissioners was held.
This year’s group of election commissioners includes two first-time commissioners, Willard and Fletcher. They replaced two election commissioners who graduated in 2014. One of last year’s commissioners Ethan Chess (COL ’14) brought the election commission into focus in January 2014 after filing a petition requesting the invalidation of a GUSA senate speaker election.
His knowledge of GUSA bylaws led him to send the petition to the Constitutional Council, since such an action is not under the jurisdiction of the Election Commission.
The new commissioners were appointed in the fall by GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) after they applied for the position on Hoyalink. Willard said he applied because of his previous interest in student government.
“I had experience with elections in high school and thought it would be a unique experience to see what gets Georgetown students passionate and excited,” Willard said.
While the young age of the new commissioners might be viewed as a disadvantage, Fletcher said Rajgopal’s two-time experience provides a rubric for fulfilling duties. Rajgopal, who already graduated Georgetown in December 2014, is still involved in the commission after graduation, and serves as a non-voting member. Rajgopal said that the commission operates on consent with GUSA by-laws, so a third voter, or tie-breaker, is unnecessary.
“I don’t think it’s terribly much of a disadvantage because we do have Pavan, who’s been here for a while and knows a lot of stuff,” Fletcher said. “So we’ve had the chance to work with him during the senate election, which went very smoothly.”
Willard said he also did not think his age would pose a problem.
“I don’t really think it will influence proceedings that much,” Willard said. “There’s a list of the rules we follow, and we have a senior on the commission, a sophomore and I’m a first-year, and I think we have a good, varied experience.”
Rajgopal said that he would work to serve as a mentor to the two new commission members.
“I think the system is a lot more valuable in that the new election commissioners, Grady and Alden, are going to get experience during this election, and I’ll be able to walk them through that,” Rajgopal said. “But there’s not going to be another situation in which there’s two vacancies and two new people need to join. As much as possible, I’m trying to let them handle the process and do the work to make sure they understand all the rules and procedures. In the spring we’ll probably nominate a new freshman to take my place and they’ll be able to pass all the knowledge down to him or her.”
All of the commissioners shared the same hope that the current election will run smoothly. Fletcher said that having a competitive and idea-driven race is crucial.
“As always, I think it’s important to have a competitive race, in which it’s not just people being discussed but ideas as well, and so we welcome the kind of competitive atmosphere that comes with it,” Fletcher said.
He also said that the tone of the race is just as important.
“We don’t want it to have a destructive or negative tone in a way that just won’t be beneficial to the long term health of Georgetown’s student body and a way that people are not seeing the value in the rules or deliberately flaunting them,” Fletcher said. “And luckily, so far, I haven’t seen anything of that nature. We have some very good campaigns being run right now and they’re all doing their best, as far as I can tell.”
Correction: A previous article stated that The Hoya was unsure as to how Rajgopal continues to serve on the Election Commission due to his graduation in December 2014. In fact, Rajgopal did graduate in December 2014, but now serves as a non-voting, advising member of the Election Commission by order of GUSA President and Vice President Tezel and Jikaria.