Six months after the Columbia Elections Board’s handling of spring elections drew widespread criticism from council members and candidates, the board has once again become a target of criticism from Columbia College Student Council.
CCSC members have raised concerns that CEB—an autonomous group founded in 2013 to oversee elections for all three councils—has exhibited a lack of transparency in changing and enforcing the council’s election bylaws.
In a meeting with CEB leadership in late September, and again at a general body meeting on Sunday, CCSC raised concerns that CEB is understaffed and that, during the past election cycle, it expected the council to share the effort of advertising open positions and debates.
“The number one reason why Elections Board was created was to prevent this conflict of interest to keep students from advertising elections that they might be running in,” CCSC Class of 2017 president and former CEB member Jordana Narin, CC ’17, said. “And if Elections Board is literally delegating to us one of the biggest reasons why they were actually founded, that's super fucked up.”
CEB Co-Chair Chase Manze, CC ’19, told Spectator that the board has only asked the council to post election announcements via its unified Facebook page, rather than have individual members advertise elections.
“We never mandated that specific officers posted,” Manze said. “I get the conflict of interest with asking specific people who are running to post it, personally, but since it is the CCSC page I don’t really see that much of a personal bias … It’s not something that we would just pass off to them completely. Again, they would be supplementing what we were already doing.”
Three sets of bylaws exist for CCSC, Engineering Student Council, and General Studies Student Council, each of which are reviewed and adopted by CEB annually and determine how councils hold elections. In order to change any bylaws, CEB must receive approval from the corresponding council by a two-thirds majority vote. But election rules, which dictate how candidates run for office, can be changed by CEB independently.
The current CCSC election bylaws, available on the board’s website, indicate that they were most recently amended in June, despite the fact that no vote by council took place over the summer.
“We didn’t vote in June 2016 to amend them, so I think that the integrity of these bylaws is also a little bit questionable,” CCSC President Nicole Allicock, CC ’18, said at the meeting on Sunday.
According to Manze, Allicock did contact the board with recommendations for changes in the election rules—not in the bylaws—this summer. The board implemented those changes, most of which mandate providing more information about rules and violations to candidates. Manze said that she was not aware of whether any bylaws were changed over the summer, adding that the line stating that they were amended in June could be an error.
Nonetheless, there are significant differences between the current bylaws and a version of the bylaws that was sent to Spectator by then-CEB Co-Chair Sam Henick, CC ’18, in April, including a new clause barring write-in candidates who are not registered with CEB from being considered for election and a new requirement that CEB Administrative Adviser Josh Lucas oversee motions by CCSC to remove CEB members from office.
Although these clauses were not present in the April version of the bylaws provided by Henick, CCSC has not voted to approve any bylaws in the past two years, at least, according to VP for Policy Abby Porter, CC ’17. Neither Manze nor former CEB Co-Chair Kate Welty, SEAS ’18, was able to confirm when the changes to the bylaws were made.
In recent years, communication between CEB and the councils over bylaws has been intermittent and, in the view of some council members, insufficient.
“We haven't been approaching them [the bylaws] the way we say we're supposed to have been,” CCSC VP for Student Life Nathan Rosin, CC ’18, said. “I think a lot of that's because we didn't know they existed.”
Although the council has not yet voted to solidify any of these complaints in the form of a resolution, CEB is willing to change some practices in response to CCSC grievances, according to Manze. Although the board currently only has two members, Manze said that they will begin adding more in the coming months in an effort to more readily fill the board’s obligations.
“We know that we’re a new organization, and, of course, as with every organization, there’s kinks that you have to work out,” Manze said. “But I really think that the premise that CEB was founded under is something that’s very genuine and very necessary.”
CCSC will continue to meet with CEB to discuss these and other complaints. Allicock also said that CCSC and the board should hold a forum during which both entities could weigh possible changes to bylaws, allowing the council to vote to ratify them.
“We’re going to have to continue that conversation,” Allicock said. “If we want to change them [bylaws], we should change them now, and if we don’t want to change them, we should follow them… But it should be changed.”