Graduate Student Assembly refuses to ratify student elections

On Thursday, the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) failed to ratify the results of last week’s election, which would have declared Sean Weinstock, senior political science and business major, and Adi Jain, senior electrical and computer engineering and business major, as student body president and vice president, respectively.

Technical difficulties with hundreds of graduate student votes prompted the GSA to vote against the election results. Although Student Senate unanimously approved the results, both groups must agree before the winners can take office.

The void is effective only for the executive board of the student government, which includes the student body president (SBP), student body vice president (SBVP), and student body vice president of finance (SBVPF). Positions for Student Senate were approved by both Senate and the GSA.

If the election results had been declared valid, Weinstock and Jain would have taken office, beating Colin Sternhell, senior economics and business major, and Lauren Hudock, senior public policy and management and philosophy major, by 19 votes. Joel Bergstein, senior mechanical engineering and engineering and public policy major, would have been named SBVPF, having won by 182 votes.

“I really think we would have benefited the campus by letting Sean and Adi take over now,” Sternhell said. “It seems like a better alternative to waiting almost two more weeks to install a new president when they could be doing things now.”

Elections began as planned Monday at 7 p.m. Starting that night, the Elections Board received 15 complaint e-mails, seven of which were from graduate students who reported receiving electronic error messages when trying to place their votes.

Upon further investigation, the Elections Board found that the list of eligible voters, supplied by Enrollment Services, was missing the names of 686 graduate students.

“The Elections Board has had all summer to work out just these kinds of problems,” said Serge Egelman, a computer science graduate student and SBP candidate. “One wonders what exactly they were doing during that time.”

Once aware of the error, the Elections Board instated a new list of eligible voters, and electronic access was given to the affected graduate students at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

To accommodate the electronic error, paper ballots were supplied at Wean Commons and in front of Doherty Hall. The voting deadline was also extended to Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. to allow for the requisite 24-hour electronic voting time.

“But seriously, who is going to do that?” Egelman asked. “This is effectively a poll tax on graduate students; if you want to vote, you must make the trek across campus to do so.”

“I had no idea the election was going on, or where to go to vote,” said James Rosen, a computer science graduate student. “When I sent an e-mail to the election commissioner, I got an e-mail saying I could come vote by paper ballot. I was in meetings during the hours they listed as being open for paper ballots, so in the end, I never was able to submit my votes.”

There were 140 votes placed by graduate students, less than 14 percent of the 1019 students who voted. In the 2006 election, 1200 students voted, 26 percent of which were graduate students.

Only students who were eligible to vote last spring could cast their votes. First-year undergraduate and graduate students were not eligible to participate.

Last spring’s departing undergraduates, graduate students, and fall study abroad students were encouraged to cast paper ballots provided to them last May. Those votes were included in last week’s election results.

Last week’s election attempt was the university’s third. After the initial date of of April 9, the elections were postponed two weeks to April 24. The April 24 election was invalidated after it began due to perceived tampering of the online voting system. Elections were then postponed until September.

“Last spring, I successfully voted in the online election, then found out the results were later invalidated,” said Rosen. “I knew the elections were going to be rescheduled, but I had no idea when they would be.”

“It’s rough to ask for people to come out and vote so many times,” said Sternhell.

This year, the students in charge of the electronic system used to run the election changed, and the system was revised, which may also account for the difficulties.

With different students taking on the leadership roles after the former leaders graduated, the technical upgrade, the initial technical problems, suspected tampering, and this last election run, the whole process has experienced great difficulty.

“Given the conditions under which this election was executed, if we win, Joe [Arasin] and I vow to step down and let GSA and Senate elect someone as per the constitution,” Egelman said on Wednesday.

The interim student body president, Germaine Williams, will continue his term until the new SBP and SBVPF are appointed Monday, Sept. 24. The appointments will be decided based on majority vote at the joint GSA and Senate meeting held at 5:30 p.m. that day.

All interested candidates, whether or not they ran previously, must submit petitions of at least 100 signatures to the Office of Student Activities by noon Friday, Sept. 21. All university students are now eligible to run for any of the vacant positions. Petitions can be picked up at the University Center Information Desk or accessed electronically.

“When possible, I have held off on the selection of student committee members until the new student body president is elected, preferring to maintain those appointments as the prerogative of the SBP,” Williams said.

Once appointed, the SBP will appoint a SBVP.

Sternhell believes that Weinstock and Bergstein, the projected winners, should be appointed SBP and SBVPF, respectively.

“No matter how the elections went, these votes are still the voice of the people,” insisted Sternhell. “Reinstatement of the projected winners must just be the best and most practical way to do it.”