The Student Assembly Elections Committee on Wednesday upheld its disqualification of a presidential candidate for a meme and declared Dale Barbaria ’19 the next S.A. president, but a report from the judicial codes counselor put the election results in doubt early on Thursday morning.
The elections committee, led by Travis Cabbell ’18, maintained that it had correctly disqualified Varun Devatha ’19, the only other candidate for the top S.A. spot, last month based on a social post by one of his supporters that encouraged students to vote for Devatha and included a Cornell logo, which the committee said violated election rules.
But the judicial codes counselor, Kendall Karr, a Cornell Law student, came to the opposite conclusions, saying the committee was biased in its analysis, that Devatha should be reinstated and that she — not the committee — has the final authority to overturn the committee’s original decision. She said she found four instances in which the committee had acted with bias, a claim Cabbell strongly denied.
Cabbell also said that the elections committee, and not Karr, has the final say.
Student voting ended on March 28, but the vote totals may never be revealed because totals for disqualified candidates are not released, the committee said in a letter released on Wednesday night. The final decision follows a tumultuous two weeks during which Devatha appealed the elections committee’s ruling twice and a former member of the committee, Austin McLaughlin ’18, quit, claiming that the body had tried to “rig” the election.
Devatha, in his second appeal, said the committee had been biased in its decision and asked Karr to review the ruling.
Reached by phone earlier on Wednesday night, Barbaria said, “this wasn’t the way I was expecting to win,” but contacted later and made aware of Karr’s report, he declined to comment, as did Devatha.
The delay in releasing the results has taken a toll on all involved. While the elections committee appeals continued, vote totals for all races up and down the S.A. ballot were withheld from the public and candidates until Wednesday night. Elections committee members have privately aired frustrations about confidential documents being leaked to The Sun and the public criticism the group and both candidates have faced online.
“Throughout all of our discussions, the current members of the Elections Committee have had no knowledge of the results of the election,” the nine voting members of the committee said in the letter. Cabbell, the chair, does not vote.
“Every current committee member has acted with integrity and interpreted the rules to the best of their ability,” the members said.
The committee’s letter seemed to indicate that the student who posted the meme was not just a supporter of Devatha, but also officially connected to his campaign.
Committee members said in their letter that “the use of the Cornell insignia or logo on any promotional materials is prohibited.” Some observers had questioned whether that section of the election rules applied solely to posters and quarter-cards or to all promotional materials.
“All candidates and supporters who have a clearly established connection to an election campaign, such as being a member of a candidate’s campaign team, must comply with this rule,” the letter said.
Barbaria, endorsed by the First Generation Student Union, Cornell Democrats and several other organizations, campaigned on a platform of bringing greater transparency to the S.A. and working to increase outreach and make students more aware of the assembly’s work.
In addition to his experience as the vice president of internal operations, Barbaria also served as the parliamentarian, vice president for internal operations and member of the University Assembly Codes and Judicial Committee.
Endorsed by the International Student Union, Cornell Union for Disability Awareness, Cornell Mainland Chinese Student Association and at least five other organizations, Devatha promised free Netflix service, improved campus safety and a more transparent S.A.
Prior to serving as executive vice president, Devatha served as undesignated representative at-large on the S.A. during the 2016-17 academic year and as freshmen representative during the preceding year.
This article will be updated.