The Columbia Elections Board departed from precedent when penalizing Engineering Student Council candidates for rules violations earlier this month, a choice that ultimately cost two candidates victory in the elections, Spectator has found.
In a break from tradition, CEB divided up vote penalties among candidates of the Back to the FUture party—as punishment for a campaigning violation made by the party as a whole—rather than penalize each individual member fully, as it has in the past.
Had it penalized each member individually, Back to the FUture candidates would have won two fewer seats.
“This is an egregious misstep … Going with their own rules, it should be 60 per member,” SEAStheCurve VP for Policy candidate Aaron Thompson, SEAS ’19, said. “In which case, both [SEAStheCurve VP for Finance candidate Camila Solis-Camara] and I would have been the victors.”
When faced with similar situations in the past two elections, CEB did not divide up vote penalties among members, and instead repeatedly assessed the full penalty to each member individually. CEB did not immediately respond to requests for comment on what distinguishes those past violations and Back to the FUture’s violations this year.
Staffed with fewer than five students and tasked with conducting Columbia’s three undergraduate student council elections, CEB has faced criticism repeatedly in the past year. Last spring, the board struggled to adequately oversee and advertise council elections, and it drew complaints from council members for a lack of transparency in November.
Back to the FUture violated campaign rules earlier this month when its Facebook page featured three photos of current ESC members endorsing the party, and when another ESC member made a status endorsing them.
Using the guidelines set forth in its constitution, CEB determined that the two violations should amount to a 60-vote penalty, to be docked from the party’s candidates. Rather than subtract 60 votes from each candidate’s total, however, the board divided each penalty among the five candidates, resulting in a 12-vote penalty for each candidate.
According to CEB, the penalty was divided among the party’s candidates because the violation affected the whole party, without a single member solely responsible.
Had the full 60 votes been docked, Vice President for Finance Cesar Trujillo, SEAS ’18, would have lost his seat to SEAStheCurve candidate Camila Solis-Camara, SEAS ’19, and Vice President for Policy Zoha Qamar, SEAS ’19, would have lost to Thompson.
In recent elections, CEB has opted to assess a full penalty to all members of a party found guilty of rules violations, rather than divide the penalty. Last fall, Columbia College Student Council candidates in the Lion Heart party were each penalized fully after the party hung posters using “unauthorized materials,” and last spring, members of the SEAS 101 party were similarly penalized for postering violations.
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