The Joint Elections Commission disqualified Student Association President Christian Zidouemba from next week’s election during a hearing Monday night.
The JEC ruled Zidouemba wrongfully collected signatures while impersonating other candidates in violation of an election bylaw. Zidouemba, who was planning to launch his fourth-consecutive run for the SA’s top job this week, said he plans to appeal the JEC’s decision to the Student Court and will run a write-in campaign.
JEC Commissioner Fatima Konte said Zidouemba has 48 hours to appeal the decision to the Student Court, per JEC bylaws.
Konte said the commission plans to release a public statement in the next 24 to 36 hours with information on the case, the verdict and sentencing.
JEC commissioners, witnesses and audience members gathered in the Media and Public Affairs building and over Zoom for a hearing that lasted more than three hours. JEC Chief Investigator Tyla Evans said Zidouemba collected SA candidate signatures for himself under the guise of doing so for rival presidential candidates Executive Chief of Staff Keanu Rowe and GW Entrepreneurship Club leader Redzuan Bin Mohamed Raffe.
Witnesses testified that Zidouemba failed to label his petition sheets with his name, and two of his sheets included crossed out letters in the candidate slot.
“Christian Zidouemba made a calculated decision to confuse a student about the candidate in which he was collecting signatures,” Evans said in her closing statement. “Christian failed to properly sign his name to all the petitions of support.”
Zidouemba denied these allegations, saying his roommate, former Finance Committee Chair Ian Ching, took one of his petition sheets and added Rowe’s name in the candidate slot. He said when gathering signatures from students, “one or two” of his petition sheets did not include his name at the top, which Evans said “created unnecessary ambiguity” for students signing his petition.
The SA bylaws do not specify whether candidates should label their petition sheets prior to seeking signatures.
Raffe, who testified at the hearing, said when Zidouemba approached him to ask to sign his petition, Zidouemba had not included his name at the top of the sheet. Raffe said he recommended Zidouemba write his name at the top of the sheet to make it clear it was for him.
Zidouemba said he has not officially announced a reelection campaign on social media, but he has spoken with friends about his plans to run. He said students who signed his petition knew he intended to run for office.
He said he “never wanted” to ask students for their signatures “without letting them know that the petition is for Christian or Christian is running.”
He said his campaign has been last minute, and he decided to commit to a reelection campaign after spring break. He said he met with students who encouraged him to run, and he made an Instagram poll March 7 asking if he should run for reelection, which further solidified his decision to run for reelection.
“I did not plan to do this,” he said. “It was a last-minute decision.”
He said he collected physical signatures at his workplace, the Lerner Health and Wellness Center, as well as the Shenkman Hall dining hall and the University Student Center. He said he gathered signatures in a group with his chief of staff and presidential candidate Keanu Rowe, vice presidential candidate Arya Thakur and senate candidate Aidan Spencer.
Spencer testified that he signed one of Zidouemba’s petition sheets and said the sheet showed Rowe’s name crossed out at the top of the page. Spencer did not immediately return a request for comment.
He requested senior Omar Saadi, who also works at Lerner, as a witness to verify that he signed Zidouemba’s petition and understood it was Zidouemba’s.
Saadi said Zidouemba never requested he sign a petition for Rowe or Spencer. Saadi did not immediately return a request for comment.
“I’ve never seen him once mention Keanu Rowe’s name,” Saadi said.
The JEC used two of Zidouemba’s petition sheets as evidence – one with Rowe’s name crossed out in the candidate slot and Zidouemba’s name written above, and another with what appears to be the letter “K” crossed out in the candidate slot, with Zidouemba’s name written to the right. Zidouemba said he submitted the two petition sheets to the JEC with crossed out letters because he did not expect to receive any complaint.
“I did not expect anything like that to happen at all or someone making a complaint,” Zidouemba said.
Junior Andrew An submitted a statement to the JEC alleging Zidouemba impersonated Rowe after Zidouemba told him he was gathering signatures for Rowe. He said after Zidouemba asked him to sign his petition, An noticed Zidouemba had not labeled his petition sheet with his name.
“Every other candidate who I’ve interacted with was very transparent as to who they were collecting signatures for,” An said. “And so I found it somewhat of an anomaly that Christian would ask me to sign for these JEC petitions without the name on it.”
This article appeared in the March 30, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.