April 12, 2018

EDITORIAL | Inform the Public, Release the Report

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The Elections Committee’s refusal to comply with the ruling of the judicial codes counselor in the Varun Devatha ’19 disqualification case is direly unfortunate and demonstrates an embarrassing lack of regard for reason on the part of our student government. Furthermore, it represents an impractical and dangerous seizure of power by a small, unelected council, and the public statement from the members of the committee does little to inspire any confidence in that body’s decision to uphold Devatha’s disqualification for violating election rules regulating promotional materials.

Should those on Elections Committee wish to regain the trust which they have so thoroughly dispensed themselves of, they must immediately release all documentation relating to the Devatha case, beginning with the initial challenge to the campaign, all the way through their assessment of the Judicial Codes Counselor opinion and their final report — including their assessment of why they believe they, rather than the JCC, have final authority on the matter. If the committee is so confident in its decision, let it argue it in front of the students which it serves. The committee’s statement references the responsibilities of “the overall community as an informed body politic” — and yet such an invocation rings hollow when the committee refuses to inform the body politic! If the committee is going to risk overturning the democratically expressed will of the people, they should do so openly.

Such a disclosure is not without precedent: in 2013, the Elections Committee disqualified presidential candidate Stephen Breedon ’14 for violating the elections rules, and then published a detailed five-page explanation of that ruling. If the Elections Committee is unwilling to volunteer its records, the Student Assembly itself should intercede and mandate the records’ release. It is, after all, the legitimacy of the Assembly that hangs so perilously in the balance.

The editors — who, it should be said, previously endorsed Devatha’s opponent, Dale Barbaria ’19 — have already commented on the substance of the initial challenge to the Devatha campaign, and again letting aside all questions about the definitions of “promotional materials” and “supporters,” we reiterate how patently absurd it is to believe that a “steal his look” meme so profoundly affected the fairness of the election as to merit a disqualification.

If the committee has some damning piece of evidence to suggest otherwise, the student body deserves to see just how they’ve been duped. Alas, the committee statement does not address why the committee believes that the alleged violation “compromised the fairness of the election and constituted a material advantage,” and in fact does not address that integral part of the challenge process at all.

Did this meme compromise the fairness of the election?

Did this meme compromise the fairness of the election?

Through its actions, the Elections Committee has endangered the legitimacy of the student branch of the shared governance system. The pall they have cast over this election season will only serve to diminish, rather than elevate, student voices across Cornell, and that effect must be countered. Today, Thursday April 12, at 4:45, the Student Assembly is scheduled to hold open session in Willard Straight Memorial Hall. We urge each and every one of you to attend that meeting and make your voices heard during open microphone.

We urge the elections committee to understand the longer-term effects of its actions. The decision at which they have arrived is unfair to the student body. It is unfair to Devatha. It is unfair to judicial codes counselor Kendall Karr law ’18, whose office provides valuable service and counsel to all Cornell students. And it is unfair to Barbaria, Devatha’s opponent, who may very well enter office hamstrung and without a mandate.

Without further disclosure and explanation, it’s hard to see just to whom this decision isn’t unfair.