Seven days was all it took for the Student Association presidential election to fall apart.
And now with no presidential candidates, the SA’s No. 2 leader says the group has three options for a new president: The student body could approve an amendment to hold a special fall election, the incoming Executive Vice President Peak Sen Chua could become president May 2 or – if he refuses the presidency – the senate will choose someone else. SA Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno said while decisions on how to fill the spot are still being made, these are the three options under consideration.
This year’s three-candidate presidential race came to a halt after the Joint Elections Committee – the group that runs the elections – disqualified former presidential candidate Lande Watson after her campaign faced charges of harassment and intimidation. On Tuesday, University officials and the JEC announced that the presidential election would be postponed to the fall, citing “an overriding concern for the wellbeing of students.”
SA presidential candidate Cole Ettingoff and his girlfriend, former RHA President Ali Belinkie, filed six complaints against Watson, alleging that members of her campaign stalked and harassed members of his campaign. The JEC found Watson partially in violation of the election laws, ruling that her campaign had broken enough statutes to disqualify her from the race.
To have a special election in the fall, the SA Senate would have to propose and pass an amendment to the SA’s constitution during their April 17 senate meeting or at another special meeting. Under the JEC’s charter, SA elections must be held between March 1 and April 15, although the SA Senate recently passed a resolution calling for the JEC to be able to postpone the election up to at least one week before reading week, the week after classes end and final exams begin.
If the senate passed the amendment, more than 50 percent of the student body would then have to confirm the change before May 2, the day the SA transitions to the newly elected representatives, Falcigno said. He added that he has never heard of the student body passing an amendment so late in the year.
“The senate is allowed to propose an amendment to the constitution. I have not seen any bill for that,” he said. “I have also not heard any discussion from senators of whether they would propose one.”
But if the amendment isn’t proposed or fails, Falcigno said the SA will “follow what is in our constitutional documents.” If there is a vacancy in the presidential position, the executive vice president will assume the role as president for the next school year May 2, according to the SA constitution.
Falcigno added that the person who fills the president role – Chua in this scenario – would have “all the powers of the president,” namely nominating an executive vice president and cabinet members. The EVP and vice presidents would be confirmed by the senate and the director positions would only need presidential approval, according to the SA constitution.
No fall election would then be held, meaning that the two candidates who weren’t disqualified, Cole Ettingoff and Adam Johnson, wouldn’t be able to run for president. Watson, who was disqualified, also would not have the option to appeal her dismissal from the race and reenter it in the fall.
Falcigno said there is an option in which Chua could not become president and the senate would instead elect someone else to the position. He said he has yet to ask Chua whether or not he would reject the post if there were no amendment.
“We have not had any conversations with him as of right now about it, but he is aware that this is in the constitution,” Falcigno said.
Chua said over the next month, he will work with current SA leaders, including SA President Erika Feinman and Falcigno, to ensure a smooth transition “into the role I will assume.” He declined to comment on what role he thought that would be.
Falcigno said he and Feinman plan to meet with administrators and SA leaders this week to make sure decisions about who will be president are made as quickly as possible.
Feinman said that between now and the May 2 transition ceremony, their team will “iron out all of the details of this unique situation.”
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar confirmed that no official decisions have been made, saying the JEC and SA are still discussing their options but that “details will be available soon.”
Whether or not there is a special election in the fall, Falcigno said the summer is an essential time for the president and EVP to work on their policies.
“There are few students here over the summer, which means administrators have more time to meet with students and talk about student issues,” he said. “We use the summer to lay the groundwork.”
Falcigno said he was able to get undergraduate deans to agree to a first-year forgiveness policy before September and said he would not have been able to finish the plan and have it added to the bulletin without working during the summer months.
Although giving the presidency to Chua, who ran as executive vice president with a platform specifically designed for the role, could be “unfair” to Ettingoff and Johnson who were not disqualified, it was not “that big of a deal,” Falcigno said. The president oversees the SA’s executive branch, including the SA cabinet, while the executive vice president focuses more on the senate.
Falcigno said he would have more of an issue with amending the constitution than moving the EVP-elect into the president position.
“What is the point of having governing documents if we are not going to adhere to what they say,” he said.
While Falcigno said he felt bad specifically for Johnson – who was not named in the complaints – he agreed that the decision to postpone the bitter presidential election was best for students.
“I would choose the mental health and safety of them over being fair or unfair to one candidate in a student government election,” he said.
At the most recent SA Senate meeting, Falcigno said this year’s SA elections have damaged the reputation of the student government, for both students and administrators.
Johnson, one of the SA presidential candidates this spring, said while these elections have been “bitter” he would still want to be considered for president if he did not have to start from the beginning with collecting signatures again. SA presidential candidates have to get 500 student signatures to land a spot on the ballot.
“If I am still on the ballot, I will probably lean towards saying yes,” he said. “I was the only presidential candidate who was not involved in the scandal. So I think it is fair for my name to still be there in the fall.”
Watson declined to comment. Ettingoff did not return requests for comment.
Johnson said he has “absolutely no clue” what the Division of Student Affairs, the SA and the JEC are planning about a fall election or appointing an interim president.
“It is really sad that a feud between the two other candidates brought it to this point,” he said.
Cayla Harris contributed to reporting.