By Khaleel Seecharan
Charles Seigel, an MC/MPA ’12 candidate student, noticed that the numbers for the Mid-Career class did not add up on September 13th, 2011 when the Kennedy School student election results were announced. While there are approximately 196 students in this year’s Mid-Career cohort, the results indicated 212 votes were cast for the Mid-Career class representatives; an overspill of 16 votes assuming of course, that every single Mid- Career had cast a ballot. Later that same day, Seigel decided to contact Emma Heffern, Assistant Director, MPA and Edward S. Mason Programs in the MPA program office who responded immediately and said the matter would be looked into. Heffern then forwarded Charles’ email to Melissa Wojciechowski, Director of Student Services, and the Elections Committee.
Said Seigel, “I assumed and had the understanding that she was speaking with the Elections Committee about this, and therefore I didn’t need to. I also to be honest, thought I might hear from the Elections Committee which I never did.”
It was not until September 29th, 2011, a full 16 days after his first email, that Seigel received more significant feedback. In an email from Heffern, it was noted that “we have passed your concerns on to the Election Committee, and conversations about election reform have already begun for next year.” In that email, Seigel was given the option to formally challenge the election results. An option Seigel exercised the following day, after a series of email communications with Heffern and the Elections Committee Chair, Fei Fei, an MPP ’12 candidate student.
A little over a week later, Seigel met with Amy Davis, MPA program Director, Fei and the entire Elections Committee. “Fei Fei basically told me to start that they had no idea this mistake could have been made; thanked me for bringing it to their attention.” said Seigel. “The committee had met and decided that it would be disruptive to hold another election and they had decided to move on and fix it for next time.”
That evening, Seigel shared the events that had taken place with some of his classmates including Chandrika Lakshminarayan, a fellow MC/MPA ’12 candidate. A candidate for class representative in the election, Lakshminarayan wrote an email the very next day on Saturday October 8th, addressed to Fei and student body President Sherry Hakimi. In what would prove to be a pivotal moment, Fei inadvertently sent a response to the entire Kennedy School student body, and the issue spilled out into the public sphere.
The Elections Committee, as noted by Fei in an email to the student body sent on Tuesday October 11th, “decided too much time had passed to challenge the results this semester…The committee decided to move forward as to not delay student activities and KSSG’s work progress.” Fei’s communication went on to state, “This issue was not brought before the Elections Committee until last week (though the individual who brought this up has mentioned it to individuals(s) outside the committee.” Seigel’s formal challenge however, was issued on September 30th, almost two full weeks before Fei’s communication to the student body. Further, The Citizen has in its possession, email correspondence with the MPA program office, which indicates that the Elections Committee was aware of the discrepancy before the formal challenge as early as September 13th and did not take action as warranted. It should be noted that the Citizen reached out to Fei for comment and was declined.
Fei’s email also states that the technology used in the election process allowed students to vote for class representatives from other programs. This, despite early disclaimers around the time of the elections that said the students who voted for other classes would not have their vote counted. According to the Elections Committee, this problem has never occurred before with this voting interface. Results from the Fall 2010 elections that The Citizen obtained show that 159 votes were cast out of a class of approximately 180 students for the 2011 Mid-Career cohort.
In an email to the Mid-Career cohort, Class Representative and Staff Writer for the Citizen, Ryoji Watanabe, noted that the Mid-Career class representatives had requested the “establishment of an independent body to investigate the [election] matter and ensure that this is not a problem again.” Elections Committee Chair Fei echoed this sentiment and “resolved to structure the technology such that this issue will not occur next semester.”
Diane Chang, KSSG Communications VP, sent an email to the entire student body on Thursday, October 13 announcing the creation of an Elections Reform Committee that will work to ensure we “have the right mechanisms in place to provide proper oversight and prevent the types of technical errors that we experienced this year.” With the spring semester only a few months away, the Elections Committee will be under close scrutiny to ensure that the next election process does not have any of the technical issues that plagued the fall voting.
The explanations made available to students nonetheless leave questions unanswered. Specifically, what happened in the 16 days between Charles’s email and Emma Heffern’s response? In her last email to the student body, Fei contends that “too much time had passed to challenge the results this semester (by-laws only allow till the day after election results are announced to bring up any challenges).” However, election results were announced September 13th, and Charles’s original email went out on the same day. Given this very appropriate timeframe, was it not squarely within the Election Committee’s function – and duty – to act quickly in directing Charles to make an official challenge? Yet, 16 crucial days passed before Charles was given any instruction for further steps, and these same 16 days (according to the Elections Committee) removed the possibility of a revote. Yes, too much time haspassed – but why, and on whose part?