Ruling Leaves Much to be DesiredWhile the results of the Undergraduate Association election for president and vice president may be clear, the decision written by the Judicial Review Board most certainly is not.
JudBoard’s ruling is confusing, incomplete, and internally inconsistent. As JudBoard rulings cannot be overturned, the board has a particular responsibility to offer a clear opinion to the student body. The duty of the board is to improve and clarify decisions by lower boards, such as the Election Commission Rules Board, as well as review policies and legislation of the UA government. The board’s ruling on the ticket of Rhett Creighton ’02 and Victor W. Brar ’04 added more confusion to the matter with a decision that contradicts itself and oversteps the bounds of the Judicial Board.
JudBoard ruled that Creighton and Brar were denied due process by the Election Commission, yet they failed to address this admitted wrong with some kind of sanction or remedy. In short, JudBoard admitted that the Rules Board acted unfairly, but let the action stand. JudBoard’s decision does not offer any incentive for the future Rules Boards to ensure due process. At the very least, JudBoard should have mitigated the punishment handed down to Creighton and Brar.
JudBoard’s ruling also included a recommendation that the commission itself rewrite the Election Code. The commission does not have this power; the code can only be amended by the UA Council. The fact that JudBoard seemingly did not understand this fact is significantly disconcerting. If JudBoard does not understand the rules which it is supposedly interpreting, what hope do undergraduates have for a fair judicial review process? JudBoard was correct to recommend substantial changes to the flawed election code, but it should have been more knowledgeable about how to do so. Such a ruling is akin to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the IRS to change the tax code, rather than asking Congress.
JudBoard ruled that Creighton/Brar were indeed offering bribes to voters. At the time of the ruling, the vote count was not known; at that time, it would have been entirely appropriate for JudBoard to call for the elections to be rerun entirely. However, given the overwhelming victory by Josiah D. Seale ’03 and Parul Deora ’04, rerunning the election at this point would be of little significance. Voter turnout was the strongest in memory, with nearly 50 percent of the undergraduates voting in the UAP/VP election and over 50 percent voting in some class council elections. With strong turnout and a strong victory, Seale has a legitimate claim to a mandate from the voters. Rerunning the election would be unlikely to change that fact. The only obvious change from previous years’ elections was the controversy surrounding the Creighton/Brar ticket; this might have been the source of the high turnout.
The 2002 election pointed out yet again the serious flaws in the UA election system. The only positive that could possibly come out of this year’s proceedings would be lasting, positive changes to the election system. The time has come for professional advice that will eliminate flaws and loopholes from the Election Code once and for all -- MIT undergraduates are not legal experts. In addition, the UA Council needs to establish procedures that will require JudBoard to act as a more effective oversight body. In future rulings, JudBoard must think much more carefully about wording their decisions. Confusing language, contradictory statements, and legislative decisions should not be introduced at the ultimate level of judiciary review. In addition, the ruling set a dangerous precedent by failing to address the lack of due process in the Rules Board’s proceedings.
As for JudBoard’s ruling itself, the verdict said that Creighton/Brar could not win the election, which was a valid decision in and of itself. However, The Tech is concerned that a valid verdict was not backed up by a clear written assessment of the initial ruling. JudBoard has failed to be an effective appellate body.
The Tech had high hopes for this year’s UA elections. After years of controversy and scandal, this year seemed to be running smoothly, with a newly adopted election code. Creighton and Brar pointed out serious flaws which remained in the UA Election Code, but poor handling by both the Election Commission Rules Board and JudBoard only exacerbated the situation. Without improvements to the Election Code before next March, the UA will be lucky to avoid its fifth tainted election in six years.