Nearly two weeks have passed since the AAS E-board elections, and the student body has yet to learn who our 2014-2015 President and Vice President will be. Reasons for the delay are mostly structural and not unusual, given the nature of the Amherst voting populous and the AAS Constitution. For the average student, who most likely does not spend their time reading the Constitution, the intricacy of the elections process can be confusing and ultimately frustrating, when the main source of communication between the AAS and the wider student body is the all-school listserv. Here is a simplified outline of this year’s elections process thus far, and why they are as yet unresolved.
Part 1: Initial election
The first round of elections, which took place on Thursday, April 3rd, went by without any problems. Out of the five races occurring (President, VP, Secretary, Treasurer, JC Chair), three of them were resolved with a simple count of votes. But in the Presidential and Vice Presidential races, none of the candidates managed to capture over 50% of the vote: the requirement for being declared winner of the respective race. This brings us to part two: the run-offs.
Part 2: Run-off election
The second round of elections were arranged to take place a prompt four days after the first, on Tuesday, April 8th. With only two candidates on the ballot for each race—Amani Ahmed and Peter Crane for President, and Ellie Anderson and Juan Gabriel Delgado Montes for VP—the run-off should have been a simple affair.
“The candidate receiving the most votes shall win the run-off election, regardless of whether or not he/she wins over 50% of the vote.” – AAS Constitution, Article V, Section 7.3
After the polls close, results were due to be announced at midnight on Thursday the 10th, allowing for the customary 24-hour interim period during which complaints can be filed. Grounds for a complaint are defined within the Constitution as an act that is “unconstitutional or in violation of any bylaw of this AAS,” which leads to a delay in the release of the results until the complaint can be resolved.
Part 3: Complaint filed
Midnight on Thursday came and went without news of the results, suggesting that there was some issue with the elections. An email from Acting JC Chair Joseph Kim confirmed this 24 hours later. Whenever a formal complaint is filed against any part of the AAS, the Judiciary Council must meet within 48 hours to determine the validity of the complaint and whether it is worth further investigation. A delay in the assembly of the JC was caused by potential conflicts of interest: because several JC members and the current JC Chair were associated in some capacity with some of the candidates, provisionary members were appointed as a precautionary measure against any conflicts of interest.
The acting Judiciary Council then met to discuss the validity of the submitted complaint, which, in order to be valid, must “have the potential to affect the outcome of the election” (Article V, Section 9.3).
Part 4: Complaint validity determined
“At 11:50 PM on Wednesday, a formal complaint was submitted to the Judiciary Council expressing concern about overspending in campaign expenditures during the run-off AAS Executive Election.” – email from Acting JC Chair Joseph Kim on Friday, 4/11/14
As stated in the Constitution (Article V, Section 8.2), total campaign expenditures are limited to $30 for “all-campus” (meaning not class specific) positions, with an additional $15 allowed for run-off elections. Any physical media that represents or promotes a candidate counts toward this limit.
After their initial meeting, the JC unanimously decided that the “size and amount of the posters displayed during the campaign leading up to the run-off election” (from the 4/11/14 email) merited further investigation into the complaint of overspending. An open hearing was scheduled to allow the candidates to provide evidence proving their compliance with the Constitution.
Part 5: Hearing
The Judiciary Council hearing—held in Morris Pratt ballroom the evening of this past Sunday, April 13th—was quick and uneventful. The four candidates, joined by a handful of supporters and observers, presented physical evidence (receipts) of the individual breakdown of spending over the course of the elections. From each of their explanations, none of them appeared to have surpassed the spending limit mandated by the Constitution.
After a few cursory questions (“Did you pay anyone to put up posters for you?”) from JC members and the audience failed to produce any further substantial or controversial evidence, the meeting was adjourned. It lasted about fifteen minutes in total. The JC stated that they would release a ruling by Monday at midnight; whether this ruling would address the complaint specifically or the election results as a whole was unclear. Regardless, no such ruling has yet been released to the student body at large.
Part 6: Where do we go from here?
According to the Constitution (Article VII, Section 5.3), the Judiciary Council has ten days after the open hearing to publish a public ruling and justification for their ruling. As the release of the results has already been delayed to a significant degree, it will likely not take that long to reach a concrete ruling, particularly as the evidence—as much has been made available to the public—seems to be fairly straightforward.
Interestingly, if one of the candidates were to be found non-compliant with spending cap, the Constitution gives discretion completely to the Judiciary Council to decide how to proceed. Options include to “call for a new election, call for a new election for a particular office, sanction the election or parts thereof, or to render any other decision appropriate to the dispute” (Article V, Section 9.4).
However, from the information provided so far through all-school emails from the Acting JC Chair and Elections Committee, hopefully no such further measures will be necessary. There is some measure of reassurance in seeing the protective checks within the Constitution in action, but I believe I speak for the majority of the voting members of the student body when I say that I look forward to the long-waited release of the results.