Update: On April 30, the J-Board ruled in favor of the PRE committee. In a 5-2 vote, the J-Board upheld the results of the runoff election, so Thomas Sheehan will be VPF.
In the majority decision of the J-Board, the board wrote that the SA Constitution, Bylaws and MPP must be updated to reflect current voting methods. They said that they had to abandon the traditional definition of a polling place, because the current one was so ambiguous.
“It is the opinion of the judicial board that it was not the proximity of Mr. Shepherd to Ms. Malatak that caused the problem to arise, but the intent to coerce,” wrote J-Board members Charles D’Oria, Justin Santabarbara, Sarah Khan and Adam Heimowitz.
Original article, published May 2, 2014:
Former Vice President for Finance (VPF) candidate-elect Ethan Shepherd testified at the Student Association’s (SA) Judicial Board to reconsider the runoff election that contested his appointment.
Shepherd filed a grievance against the Planning, Research and Elections (PRE) committee. The goal of the hearing was to determine whether PRE made the right decision in seeking a runoff election in response to a complaint from Cassandra Malatak that Shepherd had coerced her vote.
According to Malatak, Shepherd came into their building shortly after midnight on March 28, the night that the SA E-Board elections opened. Malatak claimed that Shepherd told her to open her laptop and directed her on how to vote for each race.
Malatak reached out to the SA that day and had her vote reset. PRE interviewed Malatak, Shepherd and several witnesses to determine the best course of action.
At the hearing Wednesday night, Shepherd argued that PRE had made the wrong decision to hold a runoff on April 24, which his opponent Thomas Sheehan won. According to Shepherd, a junior majoring in political science, the issue at hand was threefold: that Malatak alleged false accusations that PRE could not prove; that PRE had taken irrelevant personal factors about Shepherd into account, leading to discrimination against him; and that PRE had been disorganized in making its determination.
“Before the grievance was even out in the open, she wanted to attack my character,” Shepherd said in his opening remarks.
He noted that several of the claims made in Matalak’s original complaint, like her statement that he was a macroeconomics teaching assistant, were false. Her complaint also alleged that Shepherd had been impeached from his position as president of Hinman College’s Roosevelt Hall. Although Matalak signed a petition to impeach him, Shepherd was never impeached, but had stepped down.
“The report by someone who I have just shown to be lying four times, was taken over my statement … I can’t fathom a reason why this would be the case,” Shepherd said.
Fundamentally, the argument came down to a case of “he said/she said.” Shepherd’s witness, Max Bartell, said he took issue with the fact that the allegation couldn’t be verified.
“PRE has absolutely no mechanism for determining whether or not the [veracity of the] testimony given by the individual who filed this grievance could be ascertained,” said Bartell, a sophomore double-majoring in political science and philosophy, politics and law.
Katie Tashman, a junior double-majoring in bioengineering and mathematics, pointed out that as PRE committee chair for the Student Congress, she was unable to issue subpoenas or put witnesses under oath, and was limited only to the testimony she received.
“I understand that it’s difficult, and I understand why they would second guess our ruling, but we are college students. This is Student Congress. I know that they were expecting definite proof, but there was enough evidence that we felt that a runoff had to be held to uphold a fair election — that’s our duty,” Tashman said. “If there’s any doubt, why wouldn’t people ask for fair elections?”
Another point of Shepherd’s grievance was that the PRE considered factors that Shepherd found irrelevant in its determination to hold a runoff election. He assessed that claims surrounding how much he had to drink that night and his emotional or mental state had little to do with the complaint, and their inclusion in the deliberations made the ruling biased.
Tashman assured Shepherd and the Judicial Board that these factors were not considered in the final decision. She said that she instructed her committee not to include them, but no evidence of such instructions made it into the minutes. Another member of the Judicial Board confirmed that these factors were not considered, and that it was difficult to get every detail into the minutes.
Shepherd noted that though he had not stood over Matalak as she voted, the unclear election rules did state that — had he done so — he would have been in the wrong. Though an email was sent out to all undergraduates that no one should fill out a ballot in the presence of someone else, that directive addressed students as voters, not as candidates.
“In the instance — and I’m not saying this is true because it’s not — but in the instance where anyone was voting for anyone else with someone standing behind them, all they had to do was close their laptop,” Shepherd said. “All they had to do was read that email and say, ‘Hey I’m breaking constitution, I don’t want to do this.’ Essentially this grievance is incriminating Cassie herself without any implication of me.”
Matalak, who described herself as an “insecure” person, said that she did not have the confidence to stand up to Shepherd when he asked for her vote. She said she felt social pressure to comply with his request.
“I didn’t feel comfortable just closing my laptop and denying him … I didn’t want to start drama. I just moved into the community this past year, I didn’t know the dynamic of things,” Matalak testified.
Tashman said that all candidates were informed about the sanctity of the polling place, and since students could vote on their phones, tablets and laptops, she stressed that no candidate could interfere with another student casting his or her vote.
“This particular rule has always been the most important aspect of insuring a fair election and has historically received the most severe punitive actions, even before the electronic voting system was put in place … the act of supervising and coercing even a single vote should be seen as a reprehensible act of moral turpitude.”