Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) canceled and then re-held its election for six Executive Team positions this week after concerns about possible violations of election rules. After a meeting of the Election Commission, Nora Cullen ’18 and Justin Weathers ’18, chair and vice chair of the Judicial Board, respectively, presided over the new election independently of the BSG Executive Team.
On Sunday evening, shortly before polls were set to close, the BSG Election Commission notified the student body in an email that the election for chair positions had been canceled and rescheduled. Polls opened for the second time on Tuesday at 10 a.m. and closed at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Ben Painter ’19 was elected chair of student affairs, Nikki Tjin A Djie ’21 chair of academic affairs, Mamadou Diaw ’20 chair of diversity and inclusion, Jenna Scott ’19 chair of student organizations, Harry Sherman ’21 chair of the treasury and Nate DeMoranville ’20 chair of facilities and sustainability.
On Wednesday evening, after results had been announced, BSG President Irfan Alam ’18 addressed the student body at BSG public comment time. With a six page statement, he took responsibility for the confusion over campaigning rules that resulted in candidates unwittingly committing violations, including the sending of a mass email by two candidates, and candidates not being informed that others had dropped out of the race.
The candidates, according to Alam, enumerated six separate concerns about the election process: the names included on the ballot and the order in which they appeared, the ability of candidates to table in David Saul Smith Union, accusations about the removal of posters, the legality of sending mass emails and the Election Commission’s handling of the entire process.
In an email to the student body on Monday, Cullen and Weathers explained that “due to the details of the original campaign complaints” they decided to administer the election without involvement from any BSG members.
The second election included no changes to the ballot. Neither students nor the Orient were given any further information by the Election Commission and were instructed to vote while rumors swirled about which candidates had violated campaigning rules.
A major issue raised both by candidates during the election period and at Wednesday’s BSG meeting was the sending of a mass email by Aneka Kazlyna ’20 and Fanta Traore ’20 who were running on an unofficial ticket together.
“During all of the information sessions, or at least some, from what I understand, I explained to potential BSG candidates that they were allowed to send mass emails as long as those emails were not using email lists—like the Class of 2021 email list, for example. I was wrong to say that,” Alam said at the meeting.
Kazlyna and Traore said they did not use such an email list, but sent emails about their candidacy to about 400 students, which was, by their understanding, not a violation of election policy.
DeMoranville confronted Alam about the mass emails policy at comment time. He said he left his own information session with a clear understanding that mass emails were against campaigning rules. He also questioned how holding a second election changed the impact of these emails.
“To my understanding 580 emails were sent on behalf of two candidates encouraging people to vote for them…how does the impact of 580 emails change in the new election—you’re still encouraged to vote for the same people,” said DeMoranville.
Alam apologized for misinforming candidates, and noted that the way he explained the election rules was the same way they had been explained to him last year when he ran for a position.
Samuel Lewis ’19 questioned how BSG could fairly evaluate the impact of the potential rule-breaking and associated controversy on the election’s outcome.
“It seems that the consequence of what [DeMoranville] says, is that candidates who were meticulous were disadvantaged because of a mistake that you made,” said Lewis. “How are you holding yourself accountable…and how is this going to be made right for the candidates who did follow the rules?”
Alam said that him abstaining from presiding over the new election was a way to hold himself accountable.
Weathers noted that the behavior of candidates in this year’s election did not strongly deviate from past years.
“If you went back to like the last four elections, there’s several people that held positions that cheated, basically, if we go by a strict interpretation of the bylaws,” Weathers said. “There [are] people that ran this year that last year would have been disqualified, had we held people to the same standard. So I think part of the confusion is just from years and years of the process not being checked.”
Students and many candidates were present at comment time and expressed continued frustration over BSG’s response to the situation and questioned how a new election held two days later featuring the same candidates could right the wrongs committed.
In a statement to the Orient, Kazlyna said that she felt that she and Traore had been targeted by BSG throughout the election process for the use of campaigning methods that had been explicitly approved by Alam.
“When we were tabling, a BSG executive member came to our table and attempted to rudely rip off our poster without speaking one word to us. Before he/she could yank it off, I spoke up and told him/her to ‘respect me as a human being and talk to me.’ I repeatedly informed him/her that I had permission to table as granted by Irfan Alam and the BSG bylaws. I was shocked by his/her behavior,” she said.
The pair was called to sit in front of the Election Commission on Sunday evening regarding potential violations—they were the only candidates to be questioned. Kazlyna was disheartened by the hearing.
“In my opinion, there was absolutely no point in the hearing. Rather, I feel that it was an attempt by certain members of the BSG executive team to disqualify us,” she said. “I felt that we had been specifically targeted and previous candidates who are also in this current election and had performed the same emailing practices as us were not.”
“I urged the Election Commission to take into account the inappropriate behavior of the executive team towards Fanta and me and consider the possibility of the final election results being jeopardized by the very people who handled them,” she said. “I encourage the student body to fight for complete transparency from the BSG and question what they see.”