The official results of the 2021-2022 Student Association (SA) election are in, but the Binghamton University Council representative position is still in the process of certification.
With the high number of candidates running for each position this year, the SA Elections and Judiciary Committee implemented a new ranked-choice voting system. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on March 22, students voted for each candidate based on their ranked preferences with the options of a write-in candidate and a vote of no confidence.
Certified at a March 23 SA Congress meeting, the results of the race saw David Hatami, a junior double-majoring in political science and business administration, win president; Sakib Choudhury, a junior majoring in computer engineering, win executive vice president (EVP); Tara Lerman, a junior majoring in political science, win vice president for finance (VPF); Samantha Carroll, a sophomore majoring in philosophy, politics and law, win vice president for academic affairs (VPAA); Mary Hu, a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience, win vice president for multicultural affairs (VPMA) and Lucas Bianculli, a junior double-majoring in environmental studies and economics, win vice president for programming (VPP). Unlike the other races, the VPF and VPP elections were uncontested.
However, there was no clear winner in the BU Council representative election, which saw Jacob Eckhaus, current VPF and a senior majoring in accounting, Caroline Sandleitner, a senior double-majoring in history and philosophy, politics and law, and Eduardo Gomez, a senior majoring in systems science and industrial engineering, all running for the position. This was due to the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) raising concerns about using the B-Engaged platform for vote-keeping, since the BU Council representative election is voted on by both undergraduate and graduate students.
Additionally, students were asked to vote on a proposed amendment to Article III.A.4 of the SA Constitution. The amendment, which sought to rename the VPAA position to the vice president for student success and added a new duty of “coordinating and overseeing the [SA’s] advocacy relating to student success and wellness matters,” passed with 92 percent of students voting “yes.”
According to Megan Fey, chair of the SA Elections and Judiciary Committee and a senior majoring in biochemistry, 1,660 students voted in the SA elections, while the combined SA and GSO turnout was 1,776. Though this election was the second time in four years that student turnout was below 2,000, this year’s election saw an increase in turnout from last year’s 1,238.
Although write-in candidates were fairly minimal this year among the abundance of candidates, there were 1,336 total “no-votes,” averaging at approximately 223 no-votes per position. The closest race was the VPMA election, where Hu won by 321 votes over candidate Joshua Oommen, a junior double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law.
At the center of the March 23 Congress meeting’s results certification was controversy surrounding the BU Council representative election and the SA elections process in general. Fey wrote in an email that this year’s fully digital election process posed challenges that need to be addressed through further legislation.
“The overall election process was more hectic than in previous years with the number of candidates on the ballot,” Fey wrote. “In addition to this, the first fully digital election cycle highlighted issues within the management policies. I am hoping to write legislation with my committee to solve issues that were elucidated during the process.”
At the meeting, Michael Messina, a senior double-majoring in physics and political science and Asian Student Union senior adviser, criticized the Elections and Judiciary Committee’s last-minute policies on voter intimidation, calling the committee’s interpretation “baseless.”
“Around midnight, mere hours before the election went live, an email was sent out from [Fey] and the [Elections and Judiciary Committee] greatly restricting the language available to candidates on Election Day,” Messina said. “A testament to the extent of speech restrictions, [Fey] was able to include all permissible language on a few square inches of paper, a literal photo of a post-it note. [Fey] and the committee claim that a candidate sharing their campaign platforms on social media counts as ‘intimidation’ toward voters.”
As a solution, Messina called for the creation of an independent elections committee outside of the SA, citing the possible influence of SA Congress Speaker Ross Mesnick, a junior majoring in business administration, and Vice Speaker Choudhury, who were both candidates in the EVP race.
“The solution to such institutional issues is simple: an independent elections commission,” Messina said. “Anyone would say that having election candidates in charge of their own election committee, which was the case here considering [Mesnick], who has run in the election, also appoints the election committee head.”
In response, Mesnick and Eckhaus asserted that the two candidates recused themselves from the elections process before campaigning. However, they expressed support for election reform going forward.
Gomez expressed similar sentiments and reminded those in attendance that all students are equal. Gomez also claimed there was the possibility that some votes would be invalidated.
“Keep in mind that we are students,” Gomez said. “Although we might have a fancy email signature, no one outranks another student. When multiple candidates spoke up against the rule, there was no room for listening. Instead the committee released several poor responses to justify their interpretation and then threatened to invalidate student votes.”
Regarding the BU Council representative election, Maggie Koekkoek, current EVP, a B-Engaged administrator for the SA and a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, explained that the GSO raised concerns about the two timestamps each vote elicited. When a student first accessed the ballot, one timestamp would be recorded as “Submitted on” and after the student cast their votes, another timestamp would read “Updated on.” Koekkoek, whose administrative access to B-Engaged was removed before the election to avoid any interference, said the GSO noticed these timestamps and believed that results were being altered.
“The [GSO] saw this and raised concerns regarding the term ‘Updated on,’ as it made it sound as if votes had been somehow changed about five minutes after originally ‘Submitted,’” Koekkoek wrote in an email. “The GSO does not use B-Engaged frequently and is not as familiar with the system as the SA and therefore wanted more information on the B-Engaged system before feeling comfortable voting to approve the BU Council elections results. Because the SA is familiar with the system and understood that the language of ‘Submitted on’ and ‘Updated on’ was not a concern, the SA felt comfortable voting to approve the SA E-Board elections results.”
The GSO has not offered a timeline for the BU Council representative vote certification.