A special Student Assembly meeting has been called to discuss the controversy surrounding the presidential race between Dale Barbaria '19, right, and Varun Devatha '19, who was disqualified because of his campaign member's use of a meme with a Cornell logo.

Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

A special Student Assembly meeting has been called to discuss the controversy surrounding the presidential race between Dale Barbaria '19, right, and Varun Devatha '19, who was disqualified because of his campaign member's use of a meme with a Cornell logo.

April 13, 2018

Cornell S.A. Calls Special Meeting for Friday Afternoon to Make ‘Final Decision’ on Meme Disqualification in Presidential Race

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The Cornell Student Assembly called a special meeting for Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. to discuss the controversial presidential election in which one candidate was disqualified for a meme posted by a member of his campaign.

The meeting will be held in 251 Malott Hall, and current S.A. President Jung Won Kim ’18 said in a Facebook post that the assembly will make a “final decision” on the disqualification. The assembly will almost certainly discuss a resolution that Gabe Kaufman ’18, S.A. vice president for finance, introduced on Thursday (embedded below).

The S.A. Elections Committee disqualified Varun Devatha ’19 on March 28 because a member of his campaign posted a meme in a popular Facebook group urging students to vote for Devatha and including a Cornell logo in the meme. The committee said that the post violated election rules banning the use of Cornell insignia in certain promotional material and said Dale Barbaria ’19, the only other candidate in the race, had won by default.

Varun Devatha '19, one of two candidates for Student Assembly president, was disqualified from the race based on the Cornell logo in this meme, which was posted in a popular Facebook group.

Varun Devatha ’19, one of two candidates for Student Assembly president, was disqualified from the race based on the Cornell logo in this meme, which was posted by a member of his campaign in a popular Facebook group.

Devatha appealed the elections committee’s decision to the judicial codes counselor, Kendall Karr, law ’18, who ruled that the elections committee had applied the rules in a biased manner when disqualifying Devatha. But the elections committee, led by its chair, Travis Cabbell ’18, denied that accusation and said the committee — and not Karr — makes the final decision on whether to expel Devatha from the race.

The disagreement between Karr and the elections committee over whether Devatha should be expelled — and, crucially, which body has the final authority to do so — has led to a crisis within the assembly. A three-hour meeting on Thursday led to much shouting but no conclusion.

The judicial codes counselor, Kendall Karr, law '18, and Travis Cabbell '18 disagree over who has the authority to make the final ruling on whether a candidate should be disqualified.

Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The judicial codes counselor, Kendall Karr, law ’18, and Travis Cabbell ’18 disagree over who has the authority to make the final ruling on whether a candidate should be disqualified.

Kaufman’s resolution proposes that the assembly invalidate the elections committee’s results and instead side with the judicial codes counselor, Karr, who Kaufman says is tasked with making the final decision. Kaufman’s resolution says that the candidate who earned the most votes should be the next president. The vote total has not yet been released.

Emails from 2015, which Kaufman shared with the Assembly late on Thursday night, show that when the judicial codes counselor was first given the task of resolving election appeals for claims of bias, she was thought to have the final authority.

But Devatha’s appeal to Karr is the first time the mechanism has been used, and Cabbell, the director of elections, and Kim, the president, have said that the elections committee has the final authority to interpret election rules and decide whether Devatha should be disqualified.

Cabbell has said that the elections committee followed all election rules and did not act with any bias in coming to its conclusion.