Following a March 31 hearing, the College of William and Mary’s Student Assembly Review Board issued an official decision Tuesday, April 9 that election results from the presidential and senatorial elections for the classes of 2021 and 2022 were invalid because a large portion of full-time underloaded students were ineligible to vote. Although no election outcomes were changed following the distribution of provisional ballots April 5 to students who had previously been restricted from voting, the board also held a secondary hearing concerning intricacies of SA’s constitution.
The first case, Bowden v. Independent Elections Commission, was concerned with whether the prevention of certain students on campus from voting in the March 21 election was a violation of SA code. During the election, many part-time and full-time underloaded students were declared ineligible to vote when they attempted to cast ballots both for class-specific contests and for the SA presidential election.
Sen. Jack Bowden ’19 was the petitioner for the case and Chair of the Elections Commission Sarah Baker ’19 acted as the respondent. Bowden argued that neither SA’s Constitution nor SA’s Code specify that full-time underloaded students are ineligible to vote for SA president and vice president. Bowden argued that the failure to specify this exemption indicated an electoral violation.
Baker responded by stating that she would welcome any decision the Review Board made, so long as it provided sufficient clarification on which students qualify as “eligible voters.”
“I think that it’s very unfortunate that these students were disenfranchised,” Baker said. “I think it’s unfortunate that The Flat Hat misquoted the numbers that we gave them. I think that that the definition of an eligible voter should be clarified because in the copy of the Constitution that I have been provided with it just says that all eligible students are eligible to vote.”
Questions were then raised by the Review Board concerning who is responsible for determining student eligibility. According to Baker, Associate Director of Student Leadership Development Trici Fredrick contacts the College’s registrar before campus elections and requests a list of all full-time eligible voters for the election poll offered via TribeLink.
Bowden informed the board that the exclusion of full-time underloaded students may have been a result from the College’s Information Technology department. However, Bowden acknowledged that this theory was only speculation that resulted from his initial text messages with Frederick regarding his voting eligibility.
Review Board Chair Henry Blackburn ’20 informed the board that the margin separating the Class of 2021 presidential candidates was 12 votes. Blackburn also confirmed that there could potentially be more than 12 voters in the class of 2021 who were disenfranchised and were unable to vote March 21. He informed the board that there were around 775 students in total who were ineligible to vote in the SA presidential election.
However, in their decision, the Review Board only called for the invalidation of results from the 2021 and 2022 class elections and refrained from invalidating the results of the SA presidential election between SA President Kelsey Vita ’20 and former Class of 2021 President David DeMarco ’21.
“For [Bowden v Independent Elections Commission] a majority of the Review Board found that while the definition of voting eligibility for campus-wide elections (namely, those regarding the president and vice president) was too vague, a majority of the Review Board found that clause §5.3-7 of the Code gave an indisputable right to all full-time (including those with an underload) to vote in their social class elections,” Blackburn said in a written statement. “Thus, an injunction was filed on the election results for the classes of 2021 and 2022.”
Of the five members on Review Board, Blackburn voted yea, William Siegmund ’19 voted yea, Charles Balaan’19 vote yea, Anna Boustany ’21 voted yea and Alexander Nocks ’19 voted nay.
The Board also asked if students were unconstitutionally restricted from voting in campus-wide elections.
The majority voted that these students were not unconstitutionally restricted, stating that SA code allows for the IEC and the College registrar to have discretion when determining who is eligible to vote in the elections.
“The code at §5.3-7 grants the registrar’s office the authority to determine students’ social class,” Nocks said in a written statement. “The IEC, using its discretion under §5.3-1, has decided to also delegate authority to determine a student’s voter eligibility more broadly to the registrar’s office. For an unknown reason, the registrar’s office used that authority to exclude petitioners from the eligible list of voters. Since the IEC’s and registrar’s office actions were plainly authorized by the Code and Constitution, the election process used cannot be deemed unconstitutional.”
Nocks went on to explain that the Review Board called into question the wisdom of the current election process but did not doubt the constitutionality of the election.
“This Review Board is not empowered to fix ignorant, offensive, or ill-advised decisions,” Nocks said in a written statement. “There are other actors for who are and may adjust the system as they see fit. In this case, however, the Review Board rules for the respondent and rejects the petitioner’s claims that the 2019 election process was unconstitutional on account of select voter ineligibility in student body races.”
However, the dissenting opinion written by Balaan and Boustany, stated that students were deprived of their right to vote in the campus-wide election of Vita and Thomas, and argued that the IEC should not be allowed to determine voting eligibility.
“Considering the framers of the SA Constitution were only amateurs, it is extraordinarily dangerous and a tremendous leap to infer Code §5.3-7 means the IEC has been afforded the authority to define voting eligibility as it pleases,” Balaan and Boustany said in a written statement.
Blackburn voted nay, Nocks voted nay and Siegmund voted nay while Balaan and Boustany voted yea. The Class of 2020 was not included in the Review Board’s decision as all presidential and senatorial seats were uncontested.
“I’m interested in having those clarifications made,” Bowden said. “I’m interested in fighting to make sure that nontraditional students on this campus, no matter what they are — transfer, part-time, medical overload, whatever it is — have a voice in our student government. Our constitution in non-specific clauses says that we shall derive our power form the students at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and it’s frustrating; I’m graduating, and I’ve honestly only voted in one competitive race.”
The next case the Review Board heard was Baker v. Bowden, where Baker asked the Review Board to question the constitutionality of Bowden’s position as a class of 2019 senator due to his full-time underloaded position, which is a condition that violates eligibility for a senate position. Baker did not request that the board terminate Bowden’s current position, but instead asked to clarify when an individual is eligible to run for a senate position in the future.
Bowden argued that the Constitution states that an individual is still eligible for a senate position if at the time of running that individual was not aware that they would not remain a regular full-time student. According to Bowden, he did not know until December that he would be changing his status to full-time underloaded but ran for his senatorial position in spring 2018 before that deliberation had been made.
The Review Board unanimously decided that Bowden was constitutionally elected due to him not knowing at the time of running that he would be a full-time underloaded student this semester.
Editor’s Note: The Flat Hat would like to clarify that Anna Boustany ’21 is an Opinions Editor for the paper. Her involvement with Student Assembly is not on behalf of the paper’s interests.