On March 16, the Elections Committee (EC), which is responsible for monitoring the College Government (CG) cabinet elections, released an emailed statement to the community explaining the controversy surrounding eligibility requirements for candidates running in the 2018-2019 election.
According to a mass email that was sent following the election on Friday, March 16, the CG Cabinet committed a “human error” when it resolved a comment in the CG Constitution which allowed for rising juniors to run for College Government President (CGP). In the email, the EC explained, “The change to the clause was a suggestion in Google Docs, with a comment that asked if we should bring this up for discussion in Senate (making rising juniors eligible to run for CGP). The suggestion comment for this change was accidentally ‘resolved’ during the editing process.”
As a result, the constitutional change went into effect without any discussion or vote by Senate. The EC explained in the email that this revised constitution was then released to Senators on Feb. 3. However, they acknowledged that it was not a sufficient amount of time for Senators to report to their constituents.
The EC told The Wellesley News that the original intent of the clause was to give eligible rising juniors the chance to run for CGP so they could potentially serve two terms and facilitate more change. “CG Cabinet, in examining the eligibility of peer institutions, saw that in many cases juniors were eligible—which means that if elected, this person can seek re-election and have a greater chance of pushing for greater change with the potential investment of two years. Because of this, we thought about possibly bringing it to Senate as a proposed amendment, but we never formally did so,” the body commented.
Zilpa Oduor ’18 was one of the first students to become aware of the discrepancy between CG’s current constitution and the older version that was posted on the organization’s website. She shared, “When I asked the House Presidents about it, they told me it was something the Elections Committee was talking about. I said they needed to address [the discrepancy] and nothing was brought back to me.” Oduor took to Facebook on March 14 to voice her concerns about the discrepancy in the CG constitution and to notify the Wellesley community. According to her post, many students were unaware of the constitutional change and were concerned about EC and CG overstepping the constitution by allowing the CGP candidate, who was a junior, to run.
EC addressed this concern in its mass email, claiming that it checked its version of the constitution when the candidate in question asked if she would be allowed to run. Since EC had already allowed the candidate to campaign, it found it within their bounds to allow the election to proceed as planned.
“Based on the fact that we had already told the candidate they were eligible to run, we came to the conclusion that the candidate’s campaign would be allowed and the results would reflect the votes of the student body,” EC wrote in its email.
On the night of March 16, the results of the election were released to the student body. However, given the circumstances, administrators overseeing EC were reluctant to make them public. In its email, EC voiced that Dean Carol Bate, associate dean of students, “expressed reluctance in releasing the results over concern that this election was illegitimate.”
Dean Bate denied EC’s claim that she questioned the election’s legitimacy. “That’s their words, not mine. I told them that I was concerned that they had violated their own constitution in the election. That was my concern, and I thought it was important to have a conversation about it prior to their releasing their results and so that is the context in which I called them,” she stated.
Ultimately, there were no winners for the positions of CGP and Secretary Treasurer. Also, immediately after the results were publicized, the College Government Vice President (CGVP) winner resigned. As a result, a Special Election will be held from April 6 to April 11 to fill the open positions.
According to Dean Bate, given the circumstances, EC handled the situation as best it could. However, she wishes that the discrepancy had been caught and addressed sooner.
“I think they handled it to the best of their ability at the time … In hindsight, I wish they would have consulted us sooner before the ballot went out … It was the twelfth hour in some respects, so I wish we would have had an opportunity to consult sooner so we could have had some different conversations about how to proceed forward and what to do,” she said.
Oduor was pleased that the EC responded to the constitutional controversy. However, she believes that its response was largely motivated by the public outcry. “I’m really glad that they did respond, but I think that if the heat hadn’t been too much for them or if people hadn’t actually been asking questions about it, the situation would have been waved off as if nothing ever happened,” she explained.
EC commented that it did not notify the community of its error until after the votes were cast because its members did not want the controversy to unfairly impact the results of the election. “We waited until after voting concluded as we did not want to make any statements that would affect any particular candidate. As we did not receive the results of voting until after we informed the student body, our thoughts were not influenced by the results,” the body shared.
In its email, EC acknowledged the concerns of the community and assumed complete culpability, writing, “The candidate eligibility mix up, regarding the eligibility of a rising junior running for CGP, was Election Committee’s mistake, and we take full and absolute responsibility.”
Dean Bate hopes that this experience leads to better organization and institutional memory within CG.
“They need a way to make sure that constitutional changes are recorded and that they are very clear about what those are because their email brought to light that there are actually some previous constitutional changes that haven’t been incorporated that should have been,” she said.
Oduor indicated that these controversies could be avoided in the future if students engaged with CG year round. “Only when students were now finally interested in looking into things were they able to find that [the constitutional discrepancy] out. But I don’t think the only time students should be responding is when there is controversy. I think it should be an engagement process throughout the year so that when elections are happening, students can begin to ask tough questions of the candidates, the Election Committee and the admin that is involved,” she said.