Although registration to become a candidate in the upcoming Columbia College Student Council election has been open for over four weeks, it was not until hours before the registration deadline that council leadership first emailed students with information about the election and how to sign up to run.
In an email sent Tuesday night 30 minutes before registration was set to close, CCSC’s rarely active Judicial Board—a group of five senior council members—announced the decision to push back the elections by two weeks to allow for better publicity and more candidate registrations.
This setback follows similar mishaps with the advertising of council elections last year. At that time, however, CCSC candidates took issue with a lack of advertising done by the Columbia Elections Board, an autonomous body tasked with overseeing the elections, and council members expressed doubt as to whether the CEB had enough manpower to properly publicize and manage the election process.
Internal CCSC emails obtained by Spectator also reveal that the Judicial Board—a group intended to oversee election rule violations while avoiding conflicts of interest—was appointed less than three hours before the board’s decision to extend the registration deadline was emailed to students.
The last-minute vote to appoint the Judicial Board was done by council members via email in a break from tradition—most council appointments are conducted in public general body meetings, which provide a forum for debate or discussion of the candidates and their merits.
In its general body meeting on Sunday, CCSC executive board members attributed the publicity failure to the council’s communications committee, which had not heeded requests from the independent Columbia Elections Board to publicize the election. CEB, which was criticized by CCSC last year for its inability to enforce rule violations and advertise elections, had looked to the council to publicize this year’s election process.
While oversight of the election process to avoid such mishaps typically comes from CCSC’s executive board, CCSC President Nicole Allicock, CC ’18, is a junior, and therefore eligible to be a candidate in the coming election. That meant she had to remain separate from election management, according to the Judicial Board chair and senior class president Jordana Narin, CC ’17. As a result, executive board oversight was insufficient to ensure that elections were advertised in the weeks leading up to the registration deadline.
CCSC’s constitution and bylaws do not explicitly give the Judicial Board power to manage the election timeline. The only power vested in the Judicial Board is to mediate appeals to alleged elections rules violations—no rules specifically mandate how CCSC should advertise elections.
While CCSC members said they believe that extending the deadline was the right move, many were quick to criticize the Judicial Board’s lack of transparency in executing the vote, a process which Narin herself said was “suspect.”
“I think it’s particularly important for us to have open votes when we’re voting on a body that’s meant to oversee our own elections,” VP for Finance Anuj Sharma, CC ’17, said. “I tend to be more in favor of closed meetings than some, but I think at the very least the way we vote should be open to the public.”
Narin defended the Judicial Board’s intervention due to its perceived lack of bias against current candidates in the election.
“There is nothing that says specifically that the Judicial Board has the right to appeal, to change the election’s dates,” Narin said. “However, it was something that had to be done and we were the only non-biased and free-from-conflict-of-interest party.”
CCSC is the only class council to have a Judicial Board. Allicock said that she would like to clarify its role when reviewing Columbia’s bylaws later this semester.
While CCSC reached the consensus that the Judicial Board’s actions were the best of a bad situation, members of the council believed that they should not have been put in that position in the first place.
“I feel uncomfortable as a representative of this body with the lack of transparency on this vote. The way I see it is, this is a chain of decreasing transparency,” Pre-Professional Representative Dave Mendelson, CC ’19, said.
Students hoping to run for CCSC will have until April 4 to register.