After a rocky election season with allegations of voter intimidation, Islamophobia, election code violations and the dissolution of an entire team of candidates by their Student Elections Review Committee, the City College of New York’s Undergraduate Student Government’s 2017 election was nullified by Interim President Vincent Boudreau in May.
As of press time, a date for the reelection has not been set.
Boudreau’s choice not to certify the election results was outlined in an email to CCNY students, calling the entire election administration apparatus “weaker than it needs to be.” This weakness, he wrote, was partially to blame on the rollout of an online voting process where students could use their CCNY emails to vote for CCNY USG candidates from their personal computers. This could lead to more opportunities for voter intimidation. However, the issues run a lot deeper.
At the outset of the election, two slates of candidates applied to run for CCNY’s USG.
The first slate, Students Run City, has been operating within the college for a number of years, with the SRC mantle being passed down by groups of students each year. In the original outcome of this year’s election, SRC candidates received the majority of the votes, with their presidential candidate winning by 958 votes in an election where almost 33 percent of the undergraduate population voted.
The second slate was originally titled the Conscious Humanitarian Party, but was disbanded by the school’s SERC because one of the cabinet members in the party did not have a high enough GPA to run for student office.
The party attempted to move one of its senators into a cabinet position in order to save its slate, but was blocked by SERC and forced to disband with each of its members then running as independent candidates. While their party was defunct, the candidates still functioned as a team, pooling their resources for posters and a website that SERC mandated that they take down.
This forced disbandment became a major point of contention within the election.
CCNY’s SERC is an organization of students and faculty that regulate student elections with the college, making sure that all candidates follow the rules set out by the Office of Student Life. Out of the 10 members of CCNY’s SERC, six of them were students, with four having run for student office with SRC the prior year. In an emailed appeal of the election results to the office of CCNY’s interim president, the independent candidates claimed that SERC held bias toward SRC because of this, stating that “not only are they intrinsically bound to their party by running with them and winning in years past, but they also hold both a professional and personal relationship with those who were running on the slate for reelection.”
“So the thing was, you were a part of that party before who is now running, and now you’re here. It’s just a conflict of interest. I won’t say bias, because I’m not going to project that on them. I can’t say yes they were biased, even if it’s my own perspective, I cannot say that. But what I can say was that it definitely seemed like a conflict of interest because you had prior affiliation with that scene,” said Bella Matais, a member of the defunct CHP and an independent candidate, in an interview.
In his email to students, Boudreau said SERC’s decision not to certify the CHP was in his view based on “the slimmest of procedural grounds.” Both Boudreau and CCNY’s OSL did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Suliman Ahmed, the chair person of SERC, stated in an email to The Ticker that “the decisions were deliberated with great attention and passion, sometimes for hours, and I always felt the outcomes were the fairest possible. I believe that if the facts and rationale of the decisions were actually examined, I believe that most if not all criticisms would disappear.”
Another claim the independents’ appeal made was that SRC candidates intimidated students into voting for them. Taimoor Arif, the executive vice presidential candidate for SRC, disagreed with many of the criticisms SRC has faced, and denied all accusations of voter intimidation by anyone on his team in an interview with The Ticker.
Arif was named in the independents’ appeal to the president as someone who broke election rules by knocking on residents’ doors and soliciting votes in CCNY’s dormitories.
Arif feels that SRC is being unfairly targeted, and that SRC is comprised of mainly new members, not an elite crew of veterans. Though SRC may have broken some rules, claims Arif—such as putting posters where they should not be on campus—the team had sanctions imposed on them by SERC and tried to follow regulations otherwise, with no special treatment from SERC.
Another facet to the election is the accusation of Islamophobia. During the election, Arif explained, one candidate heard SRC being called “Muslims Run City,” and “MRC” being written on one of the team’s posters.
“We didn’t report it at first, because we wanted to keep the school spirit alive,” said Arif. The only instance of Islamophobia the team actually reported was when someone wrote “ISIS” over one of SRC presidential candidate Suman Islam’s posters.
“I guarantee no one on our team would’ve done that. We categorically condemn anything like that,” said Tracy Orend, an independent candidate for senator, in regards to the Islamophobic speech on the poster. Orend also served as one of the primary authors of the appeal email.
It is unclear what will happen now. “This is the first time where an election has not been certified (at least to my knowledge), so there is no protocol,” wrote Ahmed. According to Arif, no budget has been approved because there has been no functioning USG. This leaves clubs and organizations who receive their funds from CCNY’s USG in an uncertain place as well.
“These things should have been [taken] into consideration before making a critical decision,” said Arif.
Boudreau has committed $7,000 to purchasing new voting booths, and has vowed to better regulate student elections in the future. What direction this reelection will take remains to be seen.
Additional reporting by: Yelena Dzhanova, Samuel Liff, Jonathan Sperling