On Sunday, April 14 Gagandeep Anand ’15 filed a complaint to the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Judicial Board against VSA Board of Elections co-Chairs Devin Griffin ’13 and Clayton Masterman ’13.
In his statement, Anand alleged that Griffin and Masterman did not act to the fullest extent required by the VSA Bylaws in order to address complaints brought to them about the use of mass-email lists by members of two campus organizations: The Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) and SPECTRANA, a coalition of ALANA and LGBTQ organization.
An emergency Judicial Board hearing was held to assess the validity of these claims on Tuesday, April 16 at 8 p.m., just 16 hours before voting ended yesterday at noon. While the Judicial Board, in an opinion published on April 17, found the Board of Elections guilty on charges of unsatisfactory response to the complaints, sources within the VSA Council and Board of Elections believe that the material impact of the verdict on elections is negligible.
At the hearing, the Judicial Board heard testimony from a member of VSA Council (whose identity has been kept confidential), and VSA Vice President for Activities Doug Greer ’13. Anand, Masterman and Griffin also testified.
Throughout the course of the testimony, sitting members of the Judicial Board and members of the audience began to piece together the events that led to Anand filing his complaint.
On Sunday, April 14, Anand received an email from a member of YDS with the following message:
“hey y’all, VSA elections start tomorrow [sic] and people are clamoring to know who to vote for (clamoring!!). Here’s a list of candidates that have my vote. Use this list at your own discretion– this is NOT an endorsement from YDS. Let me know if there’s anyone I should add.”
Attached to the email was a list of candidates the YDS member was endorsing. Upon receiving this email, Anand contacted Judicial Board Chair Alaric Chinn ’13 and an anonymous member of the VSA Council, bringing this alleged violation of the VSA Bylaws to their attention.
In speaking with the member of Council, Anand learned that other alleged violations of the VSA Bylaws had recently occurred. In particular, he learned that members of SPECTRANA, an informal coalition of members of ALANA and LGBTQ organization members, had sent out a mass, unsolicited email endorsing candidates for VSA positions. Anand alleged that this email violated Article 10, Section 7, Part F of the VSA Bylaws which reads, “Excepting door-to-door campaigning, no form of mass unsolicited communication shall be allowed including, but not limited to, mass flyering and impersonal or recipient-suppressed electronic messaging.”
Anand alleged that, upon learning of the email from members of SPECTRANA, “[Masterman and Griffin] did not properly investigate the contents of the email that had gone out or the method.” In addition, he claimed that the BoE did not, as is required by current bylaws, render a decision about the complaint by phone, email and written notice in the student’s campus mailbox.
From the perspective of the defendants, Anand’s complaint did not hold water. Their testimony centered around three points: the culpability of the email from YDS; the culpability of the email from SPECTRANA; and their response to these emails as officiators of the spring elections.
With regard to the YDS email, “it was deemed to be an infraction of the VSA’s bylways by the Board of Elections,” noted Masterman. After deeming it such, the BoE proceeded as it saw fit and reached out to the perpetrator from YDS with a reprimand. Under the auspices of the VSA’s governing documents, the only two actions afforded to the BoE are reprimand and disqualification. The latter option — the disqualification of 16 candidates — was considered “unconscionable” and thus the former was pursued.
As for the SPECTRANA email, it became apparent through the course of the hearing that the recipients of the email were not the general bodies of SPECTRANA. Rather, the email was directed solely to the candidates that were being endorsed in keeping with elections bylways; SPECTRANA’s leadership was reported to just offer resources for campaigning to candidates were in line with its mission. Noting this through hearsay, the BoE decided not to pursue this incident as an infraction.
Lastly, the BoE co-chairs felt that given their oral and electronic communication, it was no longer necessary and, “too cumbersome,” to write a letter to be placed in the complainant’s mailbox.
“In analyzing the evidence, the Judicial Board came to the conclusion that the Board of Elections were in violation” of bylaws requiring three forms of communication regarding the BoE’s decision. This infraction was on two counts—”once in regards to the complainant…and once in regards to the VSA representative.”
On the first count, the Judicial Board found the respondents guilty by a vote of 3-1, and on the second count, the Judicial Board found the respondents guilty by a vote of 3-2. The panel found the BoE not guilty in their actions in response to the YDS email.
While the ruling has no impact on the elections and their results during the cycle, the Judicial Board recommends in its sanction the the VSA not only “immediately institute a stricter adherence to the communication thresholds” but also, if it finds these measures too burdensome, amend them accordingly.