This post has been updated. The approved Student Assembly resolution is embedded at the bottom of this article.
The Cornell Student Assembly declared on Friday that the judicial codes counselor had the final authority to determine whether an S.A. presidential candidate should be disqualified, effectively ruling that the winner of the spring semester presidential race will be determined by the popular vote.
A winner could be known as soon as the Office of the Assemblies releases vote tallies for the presidential race. Immediately following their vote on Friday evening, S.A. members did not know when the office would release the vote count, but said they expected it would not come before Monday. Gina Giambattista, the director of the Office of the Assemblies, did not respond to a request for comment after business hours on Friday night.
Whenever the votes are counted and a president-elect named, the announcement will conclude more than two weeks of squabbling over procedure that have brought near-unanimous calls from S.A. members and the undergraduate community for reform of the election rules.
Dale Barbaria ’19 and Varun Devatha ’19 are the only two candidates in the S.A. presidential race.
By a 17 to 2 vote, with 6 abstaining, the S.A. clarified in a special meeting on Friday that the judicial codes counselor has the power to overturn the S.A. Elections Committee when the counselor finds bias in the application of the election rules.
“We’re not overturning the elections committee,” the current S.A. president, Jung Won Kim ’18, said. “We’re just clarifying that the JCC has the power to overturn the elections committee. The JCC is a third party [and] by definition, unbiased.”
Friday’s resolution — sponsored by Gabe Kaufman ’18, Debbie Nyakaru ’20 and Daniel Engelson ’18 — differed greatly from the one proposed by Gabe Kaufman ’18 on Thursday in that it did not blame the elections committee and acknowledged that it 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.”
Travis Cabbell ’18, the director of elections who serves as the committee’s non-voting chair, said in an interview following the vote that the committee “very much intends to release its side” of events and that the committee is “disappointed in what felt like procedural bias” during the S.A. deliberations, based on what he said were members’ conflicts of interest.
The elections committee had disqualified Devatha on March 28 — the day voting ended — ruling that his campaign violated the election rules because a member of his team had included a Cornell logo in a meme urging people to vote for Devatha. The campaign member had posted the meme on a popular Facebook group.
When Devatha appealed to the judicial codes counselor, Kendall Karr, law ’18, she ruled in a seven-page report last week that the elections committee had applied the rules in a biased manner by disqualifying Devatha.
At the time, the elections committee said Karr’s report was solely advisory, upheld its disqualification of Devatha and said the only other presidential candidate, Barbaria, should be the president-elect by default.
The S.A. vote on Friday night clarified, according to the S.A., that Karr’s report was binding and that the total vote count in the election will determine the outcome, once it is released. Karr said she believed the S.A. had made the correct interpretation.
Following the decision, Barbaria said he thought “the assembly felt because of public pressure that they had to act.”
“Overall, I don’t think there was a right or wrong thing that could have been done, but I’m glad that the assembly has done something,” he said, emphasizing the necessity of reforming the election rules.
Devatha was not available for comment immediately following the vote.
Cabbell said it was inappropriate for several members of the S.A. to vote on the resolution by proxy, likely having never seen the final, amended version.
“The student opinion still needs to be heard once the [elections] committee releases its rationale,” he said. “And whether someone may have potentially received a pass when they were rightfully disqualified.”