The GUSA Senate voted yesterday to deny certification of the results of the presidential election held last week and to hold a runoff election among the top four finishers.
D.W. Cartier (COL ’09) and Andrew Rugg (COL ’09) would have won the election with 51.2 percent of the vote after seven runoffs, followed closely by Patrick Dowd (SFS ’09) and James Kelly (COL ’09), with 48.8 percent.
The tickets of Kyle Williams (COL ’09) and Brian Kesten (COL ’10) and David Dietz (COL ’10) and Tyler Stone (COL ’09) finished third and fourth, respectively.
According to GUSA bylaws, the senate must certify election results before a president is sworn in.
Out of the 35 student association senators, 16 voted to deny certification of the election results. Two voted to affirm the results, three abstained and 14 were not present.
Election Commissioner Maura Cassidy (COL ’08) established rules to govern a new election, scheduled to begin Wednesday at midnight and end Thursday at noon.
“The reason I decided to suggest a runoff was that the numbers were all so close,” she said. “I saw the correlation between their spot on the ballot and who got the most votes. Obviously, the senate and the reporters were going to notice the trend,” she said.
But GUSA President Ben Shaw (COL ’08) said he thought that announcing the winner without a runoff election could make the elected president and vice president lose credibility.
“If we were to elect this person, it would put them in a very difficult situation,” he said. “People are confident in working with us because they felt our vote represented the will of the student body.”
Instant runoff voting was adopted by the Election Commission in 2006 after five years in which no GUSA ticket won the majority of student votes. IRV is a system in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no ticket receives a majority of the first-place votes, the ticket that receives the lowest number of votes in that round is eliminated and its votes are redistributed to the remaining tickets based on what the voter indicated as his or her second choice. This process continues, with votes for eliminated candidates being redistributed based on the voter’s next choice, until one ticket receives a majority.
Last year, Shaw received a majority on the first ballot, making runoffs unnecessary.
“The problem with this election is that there are so many candidates on the ticket,” Senator Reggie Greer (COL ’09) said.
Senate Speaker Eden Schiffmann (COL ’08), a former member of THE HOYA’s editorial board, said in an e-mail that there were multiple reasons for not certifying the results.
“We didn’t do it just because it was `close,’ we did it because there were problems with the confusing ballots, the alphabetical ballots, the incorrect application of [instant runoff voting] to require voters to rank all the candidates . and immense closeness of the election through eight rounds that did not produce a clear result,” Schiffmann said.
In an effort to encourage students to vote again, the Election Commission will set up laptop voting stations in O’Donovan Hall and Lauinger Library during the election period.
A total of 2,428 out of 6,853 undergraduates, or 35.4 percent, voted in the election, topping last year’s 30 percent turnout rate.
Under rules established by the senate, candidates can still campaign, but may not spend any additional money or post any additional fliers. Online campaigning will be allowed up until the end of the election.
The senate voted 12-4 to approve the new rules, with three abstentions. Four senators had walked out of the session by the time the vote was held.
The Election Commission did not release the top finishers in the election to the senate during the meeting, referring to each candidate only by a different number. However, according to Greer, the candidates were informed of the results 90 minutes before the general GUSA meeting.
Brian Wood (COL ’09) was one of two senators who voted against denying certification of the election results.
“I thought the results of the election [were] legitimate, and throwing out a legitimate result, no matter how much better the new election procedures are, makes the new result illegitimate,” he said.
Sebastian Johnson (COL ’10), the other senator who voted against denying certification, said a runoff election might not produce the results some are anticipating.
“I don’t know if you can say the next election will capture the will of the people any more than this one,” he said.
But senator Matt Stoller (COL ’08) voted to deny certification, citing problems with the organization of the ballot in the instant runoff voting system.
“When we see a clear skewing of the eighth choice votes because it’s in alphabetical order, there is a question of legitimacy,” he said.
“IRV is a terrible choice with more than four candidates,” said GUSA senator Zack Bluestone (SFS ’09), who also voted to deny certification. “There are just too many questions. It just doesn’t seem right to me.”
Rugg, who would have won the election for GUSA vice president, said he was disappointed, but understood the decision.
“We think the new campaign is fine,” he said. “We are disappointed the election is overturned because we did initially win.”
Cartier declined to comment for this report.
During the meeting, Sean Hayes (MSB ’10), who finished in fifth place, voiced his opposition to the proposal for a new election that only included the top four candidates.
“As I voiced tonight, I’m not happy about it,” he said. “It was a flawed system from the beginning. We’ve all worked hard for the last two weeks and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be on the ballot. It’s pretty lame that there are 35 senators on the senate and 19 showed up.”
The announcement of the results, originally scheduled for Friday, was postponed after the Election Commission received multiple complaints regarding the election.
This year is not the first that questions have arisen over the GUSA presidential election results. In 2006, winning candidate Khalil Hibri (SFS ’07) and his running mate, Geoff Greene (SFS ’08), were disqualified by the Election Commission for violating campaign bylaws. The two had set up laptops in O’Donovan Hall for students to vote on election day. Nicholas Twister Murchinson (SFS ’08) was then named the victor, despite finishing 7 percentage points behind Hibri. In 2004, Kelley Hampton (SFS ’05) and Luis Torres (COL ’05) were disqualified for bylaw violations, but the decision was overturned after almost three months of deliberating.
While the senate is hopeful that the second election will yield a definitive result, the result could be just as inconclusive, Shaw said. “Sure, it could happen again,” he said, “but with four candidates, it isn’t likely.”