Varun Devatha ’19, once ejected from the Student Assembly presidential race for a meme posted by a campaign member, will be the next S.A. president after winning the popular vote by just 48 ballots.
The Office of the Assemblies announced on Sunday evening that during the voting period ending March 28, Devatha had received 1859 votes and Dale Barbaria ’19, the only other presidential candidate, had received 1811.
The 48-vote margin is the smallest since students began directly electing S.A. presidents in 2010. About 27 percent of undergraduate students voted in the election.
The announcement follows more than two weeks of squabbling that have drawn — in addition to many jokes — near-unanimous calls from S.A. members and the undergraduate community to reform the election rules.
Barbaria — who was briefly named president last week in a decision that was later overturned — told The Sun on Sunday night that he was accepting the popular vote as the “final results.” Barbaria, who is currently the S.A. vice president of internal operations, will serve on the assembly next year as an undesignated representative.
“I’m glad to have run a really great campaign, and it was a great process to be a part of,” he said. “I think all of us are glad that it is now over.”
Devatha, currently the S.A. executive vice president, told The Sun that he was “elated” by the results. He said he was “thankful for the number of people that came out to support me, not only during the actual election but also during the challenge period.”
“I’m very thankful for the way Dale ran his campaign,” Devatha said, praising Barbaria for having the “most integrity” of any S.A. candidate.
The disputes following the S.A. Elections Committee’s initial disqualification of Devatha have taken a toll on all S.A. members — in particular, the two presidential candidates and members of the elections committee, which made the initial decision to disqualify Devatha.
“It’s been one of the most stressful and anxious times of my life to be honest,” Devatha said.
The reversal of Devatha’s disqualification also means that Catherine Li ’21, who was named as an undesignated representative when Devatha was removed from the race, will no longer be able to serve on the assembly.
The elections committee had disqualified Devatha last month because the committee said his campaign violated election rules when a campaign member encouraged students to vote for Devatha in a meme that included the Cornell logo. The campaign member posted the meme in a popular Facebook group, “Cornell: Any Person, Any Meme,” which has more than 27,000 members, and more than 80 users reacted to the meme before it was removed.
Last week, the committee upheld its disqualification of Devatha and named Barbaria the next S.A. president by default. But the judicial codes counselor, Kendall Karr, law ’18, overturned the committee’s ruling, writing in a report that she had found four unique instances of bias in the committee’s decision to disqualify Devatha.
Karr’s report set off a disagreement over whether she or the elections committee — led by its non-voting chair, Travis Cabbell ’18, who is also the director of elections — had the final say on the disqualification.
By a 17 to 2 vote, with 6 abstaining, the S.A. on Friday clarified at a special meeting that the judicial codes counselor was the final authority in the matter, setting the stage for Sunday evening’s announcement of the vote tally.
The emergency meeting was a hectic display of campus politics, and both candidates appeared exasperated as members neared a roll call vote on the resolution, which led to the ballot tallies being released on Sunday.
“I could lose the presidency in the next 48 hours,” Barbaria said at the Friday meeting, encouraging members to get the vote over with. “This needs to end now.”
Jung Won Kim ’18, the current S.A. president, said on Friday that the assembly was not overturning the elections committee, but rather “clarifying that the [judicial codes counselor] has the power to overturn the elections committee.
“The JCC is a third party [and] by definition, unbiased,” he said.
Friday’s resolution — sponsored by Gabe Kaufman ’18, Debbie Nyakaru ’20 and Daniel Engelson ’18 — differed greatly from Kaufman’s Thursday proposal in that it did not blame the elections committee and acknowledged that its members had been forced to work with “ambiguous language, statements made by current S.A. members, and a lack of precedent.
Terrill Malone ’21, a voting member of the elections committee, said before the vote that the committee as a whole did “not support this resolution or what it intends to do.”
Cabbell helped author the Friday resolution, but said in an interview following the Friday vote that the committee intends to release its original rationale for disqualifying Devatha.
Devatha said on Sunday night that the election process “needs to be revamped and reshuffled” and that he is looking forward to working in partnership with Barbaria, other S.A. members and the elections committee to do so.
“We need to create a process that’s more candidate-friendly, something that’s more equitable for all students, something that doesn’t really take democracy away from this campus for small issues,” Devatha said.
Raphy Gendler ’21 contributed research to this article.