College Democrats silent on details surrounding slew of e-board resignations

Media Credit: Lillian Bautista | Staff Photographer

Former and current College Democrats leaders will not name those involved with omitting a candidate's votes during the group's freshman representative election.

Former and current leaders of GW College Democrats are remaining tight-lipped about details surrounding a slew of executive board resignations last week.

After seven e-board members announced their resignations Monday, remaining leaders held a town hall where they unveiled that several departed members omitted votes from a freshman representative election in September. But 12 current and former group leaders have declined or not returned requests for comment on the election, while one member said he wants to be transparent with general body members about how the executive board will work to regain student trust.

“Part of this rebuilding process is to regain trust from the general membership,” Louie Kahn, the group’s campaigns manager, said. “A big part in doing that is being open to hearing their opinions on how we can make our elections more transparent, how we could act as a more transparent organization overall.”

Lauren Bordeaux, Luke Briggs and Harita Iswara, the organization’s former president, programming director and vice president of diversity and inclusion, respectively, did not return multiple requests for comment. Former vice president of membership Elizabeth Gonzalez declined to comment.

Charlie Panfil, the group’s former finance director, and Helena Russo-Delee, the group’s former chief of staff, said they resigned for the reasons stated in the email sent Monday.

Panfil and Russo-Delee declined to say when they learned that students had removed votes from the election, whether they were involved with the event and which resigned members were involved.

Panfil and Russo-Delee declined to say how College Democrats should move forward after the event and whether they were forced out of their positions.

Current e-board members Nathan Yohn, Nick Koehler, Amanda Msallem, Sarah Gregory, Maddie Goldstein – the organization’s current Foggy Bottom freshman representative – and Jovawn McNeil did not return multiple requests for comment. John Hicks, who lost the Foggy Bottom freshman representative race after the incident, did not return multiple requests for comment.

Kahn, the campaigns manager, said College Democrats is working with Natalie Hershberger, the assistant director for experiential learning and leadership who advises the group, to chart out its goals for increasing transparency within the group.

He said the organization is exploring how to increase transparency and fairness during elections, like establishing an independent group to oversee elections or using GW Engage to implement ranked-choice voting. He said the group has not decided on what changes will be made.

“There have been many people who think that every student organization’s elections should be run on Engage because now we have the ability to do ranked-choice voting, which eliminates the need for run-offs,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be doing that as an organization, but these are just all things that we’re exploring in the future.”

Kahn said the group will hold elections to fill vacant positions before final exams begin, but the organization has not yet set a date. He said he does not plan to run for the presidential position.

He said the group will continue activities, like attending a “Get Out The Vote” trip to Virginia last weekend, to show members that the values and goals of the group have not changed and to rebuild trust within the group.

Kahn said he and Yohn, the organization’s interim president, met with D.C. College Democrats – which oversees college chapters – Friday about how the group can move forward. He said D.C. College Democrats pledged to support GW College Democrats’ upcoming events for the 2020 election.

“Amid everything that’s happened in the last week, we need to show that we are continuing our commitment toward electing Democrats,” he said.

Kahn declined to say if the group plans to disclose information about how the votes were omitted during this year’s e-board elections or which members were directly involved in omitting votes, saying they were advised by Center for Student Engagement members to not disclose specific names.

“We agree with the CSE that nothing positive will come of naming names, and that we are choosing to move forward with our organization’s mission to elect Democrats and advocate for progressive values,” he said.

He declined to say how he found out last Wednesday that former members rigged the election, but he said the person who informed him about the incident is still an e-board member. Kahn declined to say if any current leaders have expressed interest in running for president.

Drew Amstutz, the organization’s former vice president of communications who resigned, said the current e-board’s decision to hold a town hall “speaks” to the group’s goal of promoting transparency within the organization.

Amstutz said Monday that he found out about the incident Sunday evening and chose to resign because the organization was “not heading in a direction I could support.”

“It is worth noting that the members that have stayed have been working tirelessly to try to make things right,” he said. “These members that I’ve spoken with have gone two or three hours a night of sleep since this news broke, not to be covering things up, but ultimately to be making things right.”

He said College Democrats should either institute an independent group that the e-board selects or use the GW Joint Elections Commission – the body that oversees Student Association elections – to supervise the group’s future elections.

Amstutz said that all student organizations should evaluate how their groups conduct elections to ensure that elections are “100 percent fair.” He said groups should take advantage of the fall semester to consider their election processes because many organizations do not hold elections until the spring.

“It is my recommendation, having served on the executive board who apparently had this issue, that all student organizations self-evaluate and think that’s how they could implement a system like this into their own election,” he said.

Lia DeGroot and Jared Gans contributed reporting.

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