Confusion, bureaucracy, and claims of bias surround the current Undergraduate Association Class Council elections, as the status of candidate Prashant K. Dilwali '08 continues to be contested.
Dilwali, who is running for vice president of the Class of 2008, was granted an extension for his petition by a UA representative. Afterwards, Dilwali was removed as a candidate by the UA Election Commission Rules Board, then reinstated by the UA Judicial Review Board (JudBoard). Finally, in the hour before the election began, the Rules Board decided that Dilwali violated election rules, appending "violated election rules" to his name on ballots. Complicating matters, there was no existing JudBoard and no clear way to create one within the UA constitution.
The problems started on Wednesday, March 7 when Dilwali's running-mate Spencer R. Sugimoto '08 requested an extension for Dilwali, who was shadowing a doctor in a surgery that was lengthened by complications. The petition extension was approved by UA Vice President Ruth F. Miller '07 who did not have the authority to grant extensions, according to UA President Andrew T. Lukmann '07. "Only the election commissioner can make that decision," Lukmann said.
Further complicating the decision, Miller and Sugimoto were under the impression that Dilwali was in the hospital due to illness or injury and were unaware he was shadowing a doctor. "He sent me a cryptic text message," Sugimoto said.
After learning of the extension, UA Election Commissioner Michelle Jeong '08 agreed with Miller's decision and accepted Dilwali's petition. Jeong also noted that some of the signatures on Dilwali's petition were unclear, giving him additional time to complete the petition. According to Lukmann, after a petition has been accepted, it is UA policy to give candidates additional time when signatures are questioned.
The acceptance of Dilwali as a candidate was, however, then overturned by the UA Election Commission Rules Board.
JudBoard creation controversial
The decision by the Rules Board could have been appealed to a UA JudBoard, however, no such board existed. The nomination of a JudBoard is the obligation of outgoing presidents of the UA and must then be approved by the Nominations Committee, according to Miller. "The previous administration never formed one," she said. As a result, an emergency meeting of the UA Senate was called on Sunday, March 11, in order to form a new JudBoard. The new JudBoard, made up of three members of the Class of 2009, ruled on Monday, March 12 to overturn the Rules Board's decision and accept Dilwali as a candidate.
In that ruling, the JudBoard members wrote that candidates should follow the UA Election Commission Campaign Rules, Article II, Section 1.a in maintaining the "spirit of the campaign" and an "atmosphere of friendly competition." The JudBoard also stated that "given that MIT students typically work at the last minute, it seems unfair to penalize [Dilwali] for a habit (albeit a bad one) shared by most of the Institute."
After JudBoard's decision to add Dilwali to the ballot was announced, Phi T. Ho '08 (also a candidate for president of the Class of 2008) complained to the UA, contesting the decision. In e-mails obtained by The Tech, Ho and his running mate Rajat Bhalla '08, wrote to the UA that the JudBoard formation was "a complete violation of the UA Constitution" since it had not been selected by the outgoing President, nor approved by the Nominations Committee. Ho and Bhalla also wrote that "allowing Prashant to run for Class Council is not legitimate" and requested that his name be removed from the list of official candidates until the issue was resolved.
Lukmann responded in an e-mail to the UA characterizing the formation of the JudBoard as "warranted and necessary," considering the "extremely limited time constraints," he wrote. In an interview with The Tech, Lukmann said it is historically "very difficult to keep a JudBoard staffed" given that the board usually only addresses election complaints.
Ho and Bhalla then filed a formal complaint with the JudBoard, describing five points of contention: there was no justification for an appeal to JudBoard, the appeal should have included competing candidates (rather than one side), there was no official announcement of the ruling, the extension should not have been granted in the first place, and Dilwali's petition did not originally include enough signatures to run. Regarding signatures, Ho and Bhalla considered "[Dilwali's] hospital excuse a scheme to stall time to get the remainder of the signatures," they wrote.
That complaint was denied by Judicial Board Chairman Mark A. Stevens '09, who wrote that the decision of JudBoard was within the powers granted by the UA. He also explained that multiple candidates were not involved in the appeal, given that Dilwali made the appeal and that it was against the Rules Board's decision.
Ho said in an interview that he "respect[s] that the Judicial Board allowed [Dilwali] to run," but said he was "not happy with the UA's governing action." He said that the UA "wanted the rules to be very lenient" and that "there are a lot of issues and flaws with the governing process."
Dilwali also criticized the UA's bureaucratic struggles. "The election committee hasn't been very accommodating," he said. "There have been a lot of unnecessary roadblocks."
Both candidates praised the expediency of the UA in holding an emergency Senate meeting.
Election rules violated?
While Dilwali was included on the ballot, his name was listed as "Prashant Dilwali (violated election rules)." That decision was made by the Election Commission Rules Board, in a statement that "[Dilwali] started campaigning before [he] became an official candidate."
The decision was released after 11 p.m. Wednesday night, an hour before the polls opened, and was based on Dilwali's Facebook group that was formed before his entry as an official candidate.
Dilwali then complained to the Election Commission Rules Board and to the JudBoard that the decision was "unfair and against the spirit of campaigning." He claimed that the Facebook group was formed immediately following the first Rules Board's decision, under the assumption that he would run as a write-in candidate. Dilwali wrote that he was told by Jeong that a JudBoard would take weeks to set up and was not expecting an immediate appeal of the decision.
In speaking with The Tech, Dilwali said that the last-minute decision of the Rules Board afforded him "no due process" and "was not the way the UA should be working."
Stevens, Chairman of JudBoard, said that any changes in the ballot would be unlikely.
Dilwali also complained that there were "inherent biases" in the UA and Election Commission, specifically regarding the voting Web site and timing of the decisions.
At the time of press, the voting web site did not contain platform statements for Dilwali or Sugimoto, despite their submission.
Lukmann attributed Dilwali's missing platform to a late submission and Jeong said the site was being updated.