Election Commission Bars Creighton/Brar
JudBoard to Decide on Candidacy TonightBy Keith J. Winstein
The Undergraduate Association Election Commission disqualified Rhett Creighton ’02 and Victor W. Brar ’04 from their write-in candidacy for UA president and vice president, marking the third consecutive UA election to feature a disqualification.
Election Commissioner Helen H. Lee ’02 announced the decision via e-mail at 1:40 a.m. Thursday, explaining that the Commission had “come to a consensus that offering bribes to students that vote for them is unethical and against the spirit of the election rules and the UA Constitution.”
Lee was referring to Creighton and Brar’s controversial “Sell Your Votes!” campaign, which advertised that, in the event of a win, the first 500 students voting for the ticket would receive a payment of $10 from a $5,000 fund controlled by the UA president.
The Commission “believes that our central purpose is to maintain the integrity of the election and the campaign. Allowing candidates to offer bribes to voters seriously compromises this integrity and is also obviously contrary to basic democratic principals,” Lee wrote.
Lee wrote that the ticket’s disqualification mandates that “all votes for [Creighton and Brar] will be awarded to the next preferences chosen on each ballot.”
Candidates say they obeyed rules
“I put a lot of thought into this election to not break any rules,” said Creighton, discussing his belief that write-in candidates “[aren’t] bound by the same kind of rules” as candidates on the ballot.
As a result, Creighton and Brar do not believe their campaign violated the UA Election Code, nor do they believe that the code vests the Election Commission with the power to disqualify write-in candidates.
However, they acknowledge arguments to the contrary, referring approvingly to a posting by David B. Smith ’05 on the mit-talk mailing list. Smith cited sections of the Election Code which confer on the Commission the power to “enact any special rules governing the election process” in accordance with the UA Constitution, Council Bylaws and Election Code, and to set “additional requirements” for write-in candidates.
Smith’s argument is “actually a much stronger argument than what Lee herself uses,” Creighton said. “He had a good one against us. It says they can do whatever they want,” Brar said.
Creighton said Lee is “completely not following any set of rules.”
Lee acknowledged in her e-mail that “there is no specific rule in the Election Code or Campaign Rules that says that offering voters money for their vote” is illegal.
“Apparently at least this basic rule that should have been there was neglected,” Lee wrote. “However, the rules are only the minimal explicit set of rules to guide the Commission and Rules Board and say so explicitly.”
Count delayed pending appeal
Creighton and Brar appealed their disqualification to the UA Judicial Review Board, which has final oversight. The Board will make its decision by the end of Friday, said JudBoard Chair Leah S. Schmelzer ’02.
“We’ll meet with the Election Commission and get their side, and we’ll meet with Rhett and his running mate and get their side,” Schmelzer said.
In the meantime, Lee has announced that the commission will postpone counting ballots “until after Judboard's decision regarding the appeal to the Creighton/Brar ticket decision.”
Brar criticized this delay as conceived so that the Commission would not have to “show the kids on campus how many votes we got.”
“We know we won,” Brar said, with Creighton citing a figure of 390 undergraduates who had e-mailed them to claim their $10.
“They know that we’re in the lead,” Creighton said. “A lot of people said they voted for us without e-mailing us.”
Lee strongly denied knowing the current ballot standings. “The only person who has looked at” the electronic voting results “is the person running the site,” she said.
The technical coordinator, Mitchell E. Berger ’03, confirmed that no one else on the Election Commission had access to early returns from the electronic voting system.
Ruling overturns earlier decision
The Election Commission’s disqualification of Creighton and Brar effectively overruled an “Official Decision” issued Tuesday by the Commission’s three-member Campaign Rules Board.
The board, created in December 2001, is empowered under the Election Code to “interpret the campaign rules for the election, hear official complaints, and to enforce sanctions as necessary.”
Because Creighton and Brar are running as write-in candidates, the Board had written, “Any sanctions placed against them must therefore take the form of voting restrictions on MIT’s students placing votes for them, which would be a direct harm to the purpose of the write-in blank on all ballots. Besides public knowledge of violations and infeasibility, no plausible, direct sanction against this ticket is possible.”
The Commission issued a new ruling two days later, imposing the “direct sanction” of disqualification. Lee said several campaign-related events occurred after the Tuesday ruling, and the Commission decided it had to issue a new decision.
Rules Board chair asked to resign
After learning of two e-mails Campaign Rules Board Chair Daniel D. Liston ’04 sent to Creighton and to the mit-talk mailing list, respectively, Lee asked Liston to resign.
On Tuesday, Liston wrote to Creighton regarding his candidacy, “You are wasting your time and mine. ... I figure your goal is to disrupt the election, poke some holes in the UA, and get your name in the tech. Congrats. You’ve done everything you’ve wanted. Now when this is all done with you can go back to your powerless, innane [sic] existence. Sleep well.”
Wednesday night, Liston sent to mit-talk a summary of what was to become the Election Commission’s decision to disqualify Creighton and Brar. Lee wrote that the Election Commission felt that Liston’s e-mails were “inappropriate.”
Lee said that Liston had not consulted the rest of the Commission before sending his e-mails, which were both signed with his title, “[Election] Rules Board Chair,” and that she felt Liston’s resignation was for the good of the Commission due to the increasingly personal nature of his e-mails.
Liston said he “made a mistake” writing his e-mail to Creighton. “I no longer speak for the Commission,” Liston said, but he urged students to “think about the welfare of the entire student body and not just their pocket.”
Bush fund off limits to voters
Lee said that the source of Creighton and Brar’s money was irrelevant to the Commission’s decision to disqualify them.
Regardless, Creighton and Brar’s pledge to use the $5,000 Vannevar Bush ’16 fund to disburse among their voters may run into trouble. The Bush fund was established in 1950 with a $10,000 grant made to MIT “without restriction,” but with the “suggestion” that it be used “to defray (without accountability) the extraordinary expenses incident to” the office of UA president.
Laurie Ward of the Office of Student Life Programs said the money would not be able to be used as Creighton and Brar have proposed. “Those types of expenses will not be reimbursed by the Bush fund. No exceptions,” Ward said.
Creighton and Brar suggested, though, that they would try to circumvent these restrictions, giving the example that they might route the money through their fraternity, Tau Epsilon Phi.
Creighton and Brar’s opponents displayed mixed responses on the Election Commission’s decision. “I think there needs to be election reform,” said Jennifer S. Yoon ’03, who is running for UA president with Miquela C. Vigil ’03.
“I’m going to say I support [the Election Commission’s] decision,” Yoon said.
“I just don't believe that the way [Creighton] approached the election and campaigning this year was as tasteful as it should have been,” said Parul Deora ’04, who said she was “impartial,” as to the Election Commission’s decision. Deora is running for UA vice president with Josiah D. Seale ’03.