Ballot Box Theft Halts UA ElectionsBy Reuven M. Lerner
Undergraduate Association elections were disrupted Wednesday afternoon when a small group of students stole a box containing over 600 ballots from the polling station in Lobby 7. The box was later found in the Bexley Hall courtyard, opened and emptied of ballots.
An anonymous caller to The Tech just before 2 a.m. today claimed that "the ballots are in the basement of Bexley." He said he made the call because he did not want to "get kicked out of school." Lt. Charles E. Heitman of the Campus Police, who conducted a visual search of the basement, was unable to find any ballots.
A group calling itself the Student's Revolutionary Government claimed responsibility for the theft, saying in a "manifesto" distributed Thursday morning that this was the first act in a revolution against the current student government.
"The SRG feels that the UA is ineffectual," said the group's self-proclaimed ideological leader in an anonymous telephone interview last night. The leader, identified by a number of sources as Peter S. Yesley '92, said,"It was [the group's] right to incorporate a new government."
The UA Election Commission decided yesterday to hold a special election today. Students who voted in Lobby 7 on Wednesday will be allowed to vote in today's election. The commission had originally intended to hold the special election on Wednesday, but decided to hold them today after protests from a number of candidates.
Raajnish A. Chitaley '95, UA election commissioner, declined to comment on any other aspect of the case, because "it would hamper [a Campus Police] investigation if we told you what we suspected."
Ran toward Building 1
The theft occurred at about 5 p.m. on Wednesday. According to eyewitness reports, four or five people rushed the Lobby 7 polling station. Two people grabbed the ballot box and started running with it. The two students running the election booth at the time called the Campus Police and the UA office.
A similar incident took place several minutes later at the polling station in Walker Memorial, where two men tried to take the ballot box. UA Floor Leader Hans C. Godfrey '93 grabbed the box from them. According to Godfrey, they used force in their attempt to take the ballot box.
Natesh Parashurama '95, one of two students working at the polling booth at 5 p.m., said, "Two of us were working desk when four or five guys came over."
"Three of them blocked us from the mailbox. Two of the guys started running with it, and took it toward Building 1," Parashurama said.
A crowd of people followed the ballot box toward Building 1, but did not catch the thieves. Campus Police found the box about one hour later at Bexley. The box was unlocked, opened, and empty.
"Right after this happened, people went kind of haywire," Parashurama said. "Some guys who were working at Walker came over and told me the same thing had happened."
Called UA, Campus Police
Parashurama called Chitaley at the UA office immediately after the theft occurred. "We were supposed to report if anything went wrong. They were pretty shocked," he said.
Although Chitaley claimed that Campus Police had interviewed all of the eyewitnesses to the theft, Parashurama said they had not asked him any questions. "The CPs haven't contacted me, but I think they know what the people look like."
Chitaley stressed that the two students working in Lobby 7 did all they could to prevent the theft. "They acted in the best way they could have," he said.
"I find it hard to understand how it happened," said Theresa Neighbor, executive director of the Cambridge Election Commission, which lent the ballot boxes to the UA. Neighbor also found it "difficult to believe" that the thieves had picked the locks on the box, since it can only be opened with a special key.
Jeremy H. Brown '93, candidate for UA vice president, said in a telephone interview that he was invited to join the group by one or two people he knew. According to Brown, someone then turned around and said, "Don't invite him. He's the enemy." A short time later he watched from the second floor of Lobby 7 as the group left the building with the ballot box.
Brown did not try to stop the group because he did not believe the box would be opened or damaged. "My understanding from the other people I knew there was, `We're going to grab it and do something amusing with it,' " Brown said.
"I would have liked to see `Poll on the dome.' But `Broken poll in Bexley courtyard' is a nightmare. I've been up all night with the other candidates doing all the damage control so we can have an election," he said.
Brown said, "The fact that I knew some of the people there didn't inspire me to go and nail them to a tree." Referring to the person he suspects is the group's leader, Brown said, "My personal feeling is that they should nail him to a tree."
One student, Ross A. Lippert '93, said in a telephone interview last night that he was a member of the group that took the ballot box, but that "I didn't know what they were going to do with it."
"A couple hours later, I started getting phone calls from people that I was identified at the scene... . I spoke with [Associate] Dean [for Residence and Campus Activities James R.] Tewhey today. He told me that first of all, the Committee on Discipline would most probably do no more than levy sanctions against the people who were directly responsible for taking the box."
Lippert added that while he does not condemn what the group did, "I can't say that I would have taken the risk to go and actually do it myself."
He added, "It just seems that this whole experience has taught me that the reason the people involved took the ballot box is because the UA is so focused on its own sense of power that it's not in touch with the students."
Discipline is possible
Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs, said yesterday that it was "well beyond the bounds of allowable hacks to interfere with the election process."
"This is clearly an offense which deserves attention," Smith added. "I have a lot to learn about the situation."
Professor Nelson Y.-S. Kiang, chair of the Committee on Discipline, said "if it is a student -- and it's hard to believe it's someone else -- any member of the MIT community can bring charges."
But whether someone would actually be punished for stealing the ballot box would depend on "how good a case there is," Kiang added.
"I don't know what they can do," Chitaley said. "We don't know what MIT process we would have to use. We are interested in making sure the individuals responsible for the incident are punished."
Thieves distributed "manifesto"
The so-called revolutionary group announced itself in a two-page "manifesto" distributed in dormitories and Institute buildings early Thursday morning. The document says that "whenever any form of government becomes apathetic ... it is the right of students to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government."
The anonymous caller representing the group described the theft as the first stage in a revolution against student government. Disruptions will continue until the SRG replaces the UA, the caller said.
The caller refused to discuss the group's plans, including whether it was planning to steal the ballot box for today's election. "It would be nice if I could tell you all the plans of the government. But then it wouldn't be the Student's Revolutionary Government; it would be my government. That's not fair. That's not democratic."
When asked what services he felt a democratic student government should provide, the caller indicated that students' social lives would be greatly improved if student government were truly effective. He then noted he had not had a girlfriend for some time.
"Like all governments, [the UA and the SRG] have their birthpoint and their endpoint. I think now we stand at the birthpoint of the Student's Revolutionary Government and the endpoint of the UA," the caller said.
Josh Hartmann, Bill Jackson, Brian Rosenberg, and Joanna Stone contributed to the reporting of this article.