Following SA special election, Austin re-elected as class of 2021 president

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DATA VISUALIZATION BY MATT LOWRIE / THE FLAT HAT

Following the Student Assembly Review Board’s nullification of last week’s class of 2021 presidential election, College of William and Mary students voted in a special election Thursday, April 9 to re-elect Class of 2021 President Aria Austin ‘21 for a second term.

Austin won the special election with 54.54 percent of the vote, capturing 228 votes out of 420 total ballots cast. Helen Tariku ‘21, a previous class of 2021 senator and SA’s outgoing attorney general, earned 45.45 percent of the vote, or 190 votes. Turnout declined slightly from last week’s election, when 466 juniors participated.

This is now the third electoral matchup between Austin and Tariku, who faced each other in last year’s class of 2021 presidential election as well as last week’s voided race. Austin claimed victory in all three contests, and while all races have been characterized by narrow margins, her April 9 victory secured Austin’s largest winning percentage yet.

Austin said she hopes her second term will provide meaningful growth opportunities for the class of 2021, and illustrated her commitment to helping students who are facing uncertain futures because of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

“I’m incredibly grateful to be able to represent the Class of 2021 our Senior year,” Austin said in a written statement. “My campaign slogan was “Keep Moving Forward” and that’s exactly what I intend to do. I’m so excited to see how we all will grow from this experience, whether that growth is finding a passion for philanthropy, not being afraid to advocate for yourself in your classes, or reconnecting with family and old friends. It will look different for all of us, but I just want my class to know that I will be there to support everyone as we transition back to campus from this incredibly stressful situation, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that our Senior year is the best that it can be for all of us.”

The special election was ordered by the Review Board just two days after Austin initially claimed victory in April 2’s contest. In one of two cases filed with SA’s judicial branch after SA held elections last week, Tariku argued that the original election result should be made invalid since many study abroad students faced eligibility issues and encountered an abbreviated voting window relative to other class of 2021 students. In the original election last week, some students that had studied abroad during the spring semester were unable to vote until 4:19 p.m., approximately three and a half hours before polls closed. Other students were eligible to vote from 7 a.m. onwards.

The Review Board’s seven members unanimously approved Tariku’s case, invalidating the election results and instructing SA’s independent Elections Commissions Chair Hank Hermens ‘22 to set a special election date. In an April 8 email sent to the class of 2021, Hermens said that polls would be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., in a slightly shortened timeline relative to previous SA elections.

While disappointed by Thursday’s result, Tariku said she was grateful to have the opportunity to run in a full election that saw greater voting eligibility for all class of 2021 students.

I’m happy that the Review Board decided to uphold my appeal because at the end of the day, it wasn’t necessarily about winning or losing for me, at least, but rather making sure that it was a fair election and that no voter was disenfranchised from the process,” Tariku said in a written statement. “In terms of the handling of the election itself, there were some organizational issues and matters that I felt went unaddressed, but overall, I was happy that they were able to resolve the issue so quickly and have such quick turnaround. Although obviously saddened by the election results, I send my congrats to Aria and wish her the best of luck on her continued presidency.”

Hermens echoed Tariku’s sentiments and said that the Review Board’s decision allowed for improved enfranchisement for class of 2021 students, even during an election cycle that was characterized by relatively low voter turnout.

“Regarding the special election, I think it was important because it made sure we operated by the code and according to the Review Board’s decision,” Hermens said in a written statement. “… They came to their decision because 198 students, who had been studying abroad this semester, were unable to vote in the first election. As this was the only contested race that involved students abroad, it made sense to hold a special election to make sure that everyone eligible could vote … This election’s turnout took a hit due to COVID-19, but on average turnout at W&M is much higher by percentage than other schools of similar caliber. It’s great to see that students here are actually involved and care about the future of their school.”

 

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Ethan Brown
Ethan Brown '21 is The Flat Hat's 110th Editor-in-Chief. Before serving as EIC, Ethan previously was Managing Editor and an Opinions Editor. Ethan has enjoyed covering a diverse array of topics on campus, including the creation of a graduate student workers' union, Jefferson Hall's 2020 flooding, Board of Visitors tuition changes, and the provision of emergency Plan B prescriptions at the College. Beyond The Flat Hat, Ethan is an economics and government double major from Manassas, VA who enjoys long-distance running, European politics, and listening to podcasts.