Review Board calls for SA presidential election redo


Wednesday, April 3, the College of William and Mary Student Assembly President Sydney Thayer ’24 and Chair of the Independent Elections Commission Jason Zheng ’26 announced in an email to students a decision made by the SA Review Board to call a special election in the race for SA president Monday, April 8. The Review Board unanimously ruled that the involvement of SA Attorney General Owen Williams ’23 M.P.P. ’25 may have influenced the election.

In a previous election held Thursday, March 28, which the board deemed invalid, SA Secretary of Health and Safety Terra Sloane ’25 and SA Secretary of Diversity Initiatives Oscar Lazo ’25 emerged victorious over Class of 2025 President Yannie Chang and SA Sen. Hashir Aqeel ’25.

“Our process allows for an appeal of the election. On March 30th, there was an appeal filed with the Student Assembly Review Board followed by a hearing on April 1st. The opinion from the Review Board, delivered on April 3rd, concluded that the result of the Student Body Presidential Election was invalid, calling for a special election,” Thayer and Zheng wrote in their email. 

In the unanimous decision, penned by Robert Drake, Jr. J.D. ’24, which can be viewed online, the five-person judicial branch of SA held that Williams’s involvement in Sloane and Lazo’s campaign could have affected the election. One review board member did not participate in the decision.

According to the decision, the “respondent” — Williams — requested that the language in the standard of whether or not an infraction affected the outcome be raised to “would.” The board rejected this invitation, stating that it would have had to impermissibly substitute its decision for that of the legislative branch — the SA Senate — that authored the law, and thus only considered the standard as “could.”

SA Code states that the Review Board is statutorily bound to declare an election invalid if “the alleged infraction could have altered the outcome of the election.”

The board also gave the reason why it saw Williams’ involvement as an infraction and as having given the Sloane campaign an unfair advantage.

“After all, the Student Assembly Attorney General is uniquely situated amongst its classmates to handle claims before the Review Board and similar adjudicative bodies,” the decision states. “This expertise gives the officer an inherent upper hand over other students in the adjudicative process because of its exposure to the process. As applicable to these facts, Mr. Williams is an exceptionally skilled advocate… This exceptional advocacy makes the decision to prevent future Attorneys General from participating in the campaign process even more important.”

The board said Williams’ involvement met the standard of having a “remote possibility” of affecting the outcome of the election.

“Given the analogous federal practice of removing the Attorney General from political activity, the Review Board believes the Student Assembly Attorney General’s participation in the campaign process could have raised similar concerns in this election. Accordingly, this involvement is sufficient to justify the Review Board’s decision,” the board wrote.

However, the board did not order a specific remedy for future campaign involvement by the attorney general, instead leaving it to the IEC and the SA Senate.

The board also held that there was not sufficient evidence to state that either campaign was engaged in spreading misinformation and that both teams took appropriate steps to counter the negative rhetoric against the campaigns. Chang said at the hearing that she was told that Lazo said her campaign plagiarized Sloane’s platform. Williams also said that Sloane’s campaign was a target of misinformation on the anonymous social media app Yik Yak.

The decision comes after a hearing between Chang and Williams, who was representing both the IEC and the Sloane-Lazo campaign, Monday, April 1.

During the session, Chang and Aqeel both emphasized that their main goal was not for a new election to be called, but to highlight issues that surfaced during the campaign. Aqeel also stated that he wanted an unbiased third party to review the election process.

“I would like to clarify — we want you guys to make a decision on whether there were grounds for this election to be redone,” Aqeel said at the hearing. “What we specifically meant was, this is not a case of us being sad or whining about losing the election. If that is the case, we would have appealed right away after the election results had come in. This decision was made after people that we worked with specifically came to us like, ‘Hey, you guys have this information now we think you should appeal because other people feel as though I guess that the integrity of the election is compromised.’”

Williams, arguing on behalf of the Sloane-Lazo campaign, said he submitted a campaign complaint to the IEC following consultations with Director of Student Leadership Development Anne Arseneau ’89 M.A.Ed ’92 and SLD Associate Director Jennifer Leung. According to Williams, Arseneau was fully on board with the decision, stating that Chang’s actions were “way out of bounds.”

According to Williams, he made a complaint regarding the Chang-Aqeel campaign’s involvement of Graduate Council President Justin Cammarota Ph.D. ’24 in the drafting of her platform before campaigning has begun. He said, as per his knowledge, Cammarota was not a formal member of the campaign team and his assistance, in his view, was a violation of campaign rules.

“This is a blatant misuse of the election appeals process,” Williams said at the meeting. “Every single year in which there’s a contested election, there are hurt feelings and disappointment by the losing candidate. However, not every year there are appeals for losing candidates based on those hurt feelings.”

Williams said precedents show that the appeals process was created to mitigate significant infractions that would have altered the outcome, a standard that the Review Board disagrees with.

In an email to The Flat Hat, the Chang campaign reacted to Wednesday’s announcement.

“Our focus for the appeal was not to change the results of the election but to spotlight some of the inappropriate activity that occurred during and before the election, and expose the long standing practices in Student Assembly of winning campaigns through bureaucratic leverage and slander,” the statement from the campaign said.

The team further elaborated that they were not expecting a new election to be called.

“We knew people would make fun of us if we appealed and that we’d likely be called sore losers,” the statement added. “The decision to appeal was on principle and on the fact that the election was compromised. We did not expect the appeal to go through and for the review board to actually call for a new election, since hearings can get complicated and no election has ever been overturned.”

The Chang campaign said it initiated the appeal to ensure that some infractions are not repeated in future elections.

“Our election cycle is not the first time this has happened, there has been a massive uptick in foul play, slander, and poor sportsmanship that we believe is perpetuated by the same overlapping actors of past campaigns and by the same internal nepotism as previous elections,” they said.

The campaign added that if the sole reason for the appeal was that it was dissatisfied with the result, it would have submitted the appeal immediately after the election. 

“We were approached with new information regarding members of their campaign team (Oscar) spreading misinformation and slander on the days leading up to the election, which is highly concerning and especially relevant in such a close race. Had we known about this information beforehand, there could have been grounds for suspension of their campaign,” the statement reads.

Sloane gave her thoughts on the decision.

“We appreciate the opportunity to take part in the appeals process, and while the outcome is not what we were expecting, we respect that this process is open for any student that wants to utilize it,” Sloane wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “As you have been made aware, Owen Williams has stepped down from our campaign, and it is our understanding that Owen never meant to impose any form of power imbalance through working with our team. We agree that in the future, Attorney Generals should not be allowed to be a non-neutral part of the campaign process, and we feel extreme remorse for anyone who felt that Owen’s involvement made things unfair and unjust.”

Sloane added that her campaign wants to see change in the electoral process in the future.

“We appreciate that the appeal was brought in order to address some long-standing concerns with Student Assembly elections, and we are committed to ensuring that these concerns are addressed in the future, regardless of the administration that is elected on Monday,” she added. “We will consistently work to make sure that we are deterring students from using online platforms to spread misinformation and hatred, it is our utmost priority that Student Assembly be a place of collaboration and respect. We hope that the Student Body continues to engage with Student Assembly and we encourage students to vote on Monday.” 

Williams told The Flat Hat in an email that he has voluntarily stepped down from the Sloane-Lazo campaign.

Zheng told The Flat Hat that candidates are now allowed to campaign again ahead of the special election.

“However, they must follow the same rules and regulations as before,” Zheng wrote in an email. “Due to the nature of the appeal, which focused on slander and misinformation, the Commission wants to heavily encourage both the student body and the candidates to be respectful and informed. We understand the power of an ‘echo chamber’ and we want to promote civilized discourse.”

The IEC will host the special election Monday, April 8, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m, similar to the former election. Students will have the opportunity to cast their ballot for president and vice president, with a rematch of Chang and Sloane.

Thayer closed her email addressed to the general student body by urging students to participate in this special election.

“We appreciate your participation in our democratic process and hope that you will continue to stay engaged even as we head into this special election!” Thayer said. 

CORRECTION (04/05/24): Article was updated by News Editor Peerawut Ruangsawasdi to add Sloane’s comments and correct Williams’ intent to file an electoral complaint to the Independent Elections Commission.


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