Campus

CUCR members outline grievances regarding last week's elections

Updated, May 5, 2:15 a.m.

A group of Columbia University College Republicans members wrote a "statement of grievances" to the club's executive board earlier tonight outlining concerns over how last week's executive board elections went.

Last week, some members alleged that there was vote-stacking and vote-rigging at the executive board elections. The current executive board later released a statement which said that it will uphold the results.

Read the full statement after the jump:

WE, the undersigned directors and members of the general body of the Columbia University College Republicans, issue this statement of grievances pertaining to the election held on Wednesday April 30, 2014, and the conduct of the officials presiding over the proceedings of the meeting.

We feel that the conduct of the election was in contravention to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution of the CUCR, and, more importantly, we feel that certain actions taken during the election were less than forthright.

In the detailed explication of grievances following this statement, we find, to the best of our ability to do so, that the qualifications for voting, in past elections, were successfully defined as being solely restricted to the members of the general body who have attended two or more meetings. We have evidence that this is supported by the Operations Manual, which defines the qualifications in the same manner as was explained to the general body in the days preceding the elections.

In the lead-up to the election we have been told of explicit statements made by members of the outgoing board questioning their character and urging them not to run.

Furthermore, we have evidence that supports wide-scale “stacking” of voters that is in clear contravention to the spirit of the constitution. It is agreed amongst the signatories that instances of voters having to be told of which events they “attended” were observed. We also question the qualifications of several of these voters even under these relaxed standards, and that not all persons of questionable qualification had their eligibility ascertained.

We have also had signatories testify that there was clear coordination in the questioning period in order to target particular candidates, which suggests collaboration between the beneficiary(ies) of said targeting and the coordinators thereof. We also note that the outgoing president took to the floor to issue a condemnatory statement towards a candidate at this questioning period.

In the following days we have seen what can be termed a campaign of intimidation and the creation of a fearful atmosphere. Signatories have been told that their ability to remain members of this organisation is at risk if they were to engage in criticism. We have been told by members of the outgoing leadership, despite nominally expressing a willingness to entertain complaints, have adopted a stance of dismissal and denigration of such views. The newly elected President took to campus media to condemn critics as being racist and sexist, and we condemn this statement, official or not, in the strongest terms.

We regard the CUCR as an arena for people who share our core values to express their opinions, to make them heard, and to feel that their views shall be listened to and accepted. We do not feel that, in light of recent events, that our views have been accurately heard, nor do we feel that the CUCR, after these events, can be a safe place to express our views without the threat of condemnation from the top.

As a result, we request that, with the authorization of the Student Governing Board, new elections, with the restriction of voters having been to two meetings attended throughout the year, be held before the end of the academic term.

It is our hope, with good will and a desire for honesty and openness we can finally place these legitimate concerns to rest, endow legitimacy on the Board of Directors, and achieve reconciliation with disaffected members. It is known that all members wish to move past this controversy, but we firmly believe this shall be impossible without an honest and forthright remedy.

We understand that these are extraordinary circumstances, but we believe that with the broad support we have achieved that our statement is truly indicative of the disposition of the majority of this organisation. Perhaps in other organisations similar sentiments would have gone unheeded, but, as our outgoing President Kate Christensen said, we have a responsibility to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Signed,

Detail of Grievances

        We, the above signed, have contributed to this detailed account, however not all signatories may agree with everything stated below; it is to be taken as the aggregate recollection of events and not a binding account. We find that our grievances are divided in all periods surrounding the election—in the days preceding it, in its conduct, and its aftermath. Thus we have divided this statement into sections clarifying when the issues or events mentioned occurred.

Prelude to the Election

In the days before the election, emails were sent that stated, explicitly, that in order to be eligible to vote voters must have attended two or more general body meetings, and that “Parties and co-sponsored events with other groups do not count.” We have been told that this is language supposedly taken from the group’s operations manual, a document mentioned in the CUCR constitution and which, for reasons unknown, has been kept confidential. Despite the constitution taking the broader language of “events,” we believe that the constitution allows for the more restrictive definition to hold applicable, where it is written that “The final interpreter of the meaning of the Constitution of the Columbia University College Republicans is the Executive Board.” This has been the conduct followed in previous elections; on April 22, 2013, then-Communications Director Sharin Khander wrote an email saying that “in order to be eligible to vote, you must have attended a minimum of 2 general body meetings this year.” (Emphasis original).

This statement would allow the Board to clarify and tighten the provisions of the constitution as they saw fit. Under such an understanding, the requirements of the Operations Manual would mandate that elections must be conducted under the “two-general-body-meeting” principle. This alone is grounds for dismissing the results of Wednesday’s election and holding a re-vote.

We are told that one candidate was also personally told by the President to not run for a position next year. We find this to be in contradiction of the principle of the CUCR’s mission to “recognise the diversity of its members and encourage dialogue and discussion among its membership” and, more critically, the general principle of fairness.

According to a voter who was present at the election, Andy Truelove contacted people from his church group to attend parties, and he noted that Andy said that he had a spreadsheet with names on them and attended parties. According to Ben Sweetwood, Eyvana Bengochea made statements critical of Kate Christensen’s leadership.

Conduct of the Election

  According to the aforementioned source, said that Andy instructed them to vote for candidates, and that their group came from Andy’s church group and other people. He expressed concern over his qualifications to voted, and messaged Andy saying that he felt “I am not qualified to vote”,  and Andy texted back saying that, in effect “the constitution says you can”. One of these persons, according to a signatory, said that Andy had brought “about a dozen” persons to the meeting, supported by the estimates of several signatories themselves.

        We also witnessed several individuals having to be told or “reminded” of which events they attended, highly suggestive of the fact that they had attended no events whatsoever. At the very least, virtually all signatories can testify there were individuals present whom were not recognised. We are not sure if every voter underwent the same scrutiny, which would imply a certain preferential treatment, several signatories were not questioned for their credentials, which is indicative of an uneven application of due diligence. If we were overlooked, in short, who else was? There was one non-present board member, Miranda Pacheco, who was allowed to cast an absentee ballot from Buenos Aires, despite the Constitution making no provision for such a method of voting. At least one non-present signatory, who attended general body meetings, was not afforded this privilege.

        Furthermore, the testifier stated that the questions were coordinated amongst the questioners, with one in particular (inquiring about a mayoral debate in November, despite the fact the questioner had not been in attendance) being suggested to the questioner by Jamie Boothe at the suggestion of Andy Truelove. This, again, suggests an active interest in the presidential race—and we know that Andy was supporting Eyvana; again we have reason to believe collaboration between the two.

        In addition, it is noted that the President interrupted one candidate’s answer to a question in order to give a “clarification” that in effect was a condemnation, noting that “the board had to twice issue reprimands for excessive absences,” this despite his clarification, made in his address as well as to the Board of Directors on a prior occasion, that he dealt with a family emergency whose gravity was made clear to all present on both occasions. One of the above signed, who is fully aware of the (confidential) extent of this situation, considers to be a particularly egregious incident.

        Following the vote for the President, whose results were not stated but said to be “close”, several persons, over ten according to some signatories, left the election. This suggests that they were brought there, by persons with an investment in a particular candidate or the particular candidate themselves, in order to vote for that candidate. Knowing what has been stated of the general suspicion of the qualifications of several voters, it seems reasonable to hold this as evidence of “vote stacking”. The same was mirrored, more clearly, following the election for Executive Director, were “over a dozen” people left the room and, containing anywhere between 50-60 people at the beginning, the room was considered to be “empty” and over half the people having left. According to Eitan Neugut’s count, there were exactly 34 remaining. This, again, strongly suggests people were brought in to ensure a certain result in a specific election.

Aftermath of the Election

        Following the publication of a piece critical of the conduct of the election on Bwog, Eyvana issued a statement condemning the site for publishing remarks that she deemed “racist and sexist”. This is despite the fact that the article made no mention of her race or gender. Despite the fact that the letter itself drew a broad, overly hostile brush against opponents, what it indicated was a certain rashness that seems to portend ill for future confrontation. Will the response for successive controversy be to make accusations of racism? The accusations, as per the general commentary on her remarks, were regarded with universal derision by the campus community.

        Furthermore, several signatories have heard of disturbing threats made towards possible critics. At least one member has noted that the outgoing leadership has worked to “shut down” those who have contacted the board about the conduct of the election. At least one signatory was actively told that his membership in the organisation would be at risk if he were to continue making criticisms. Several were told that Eyvana had contacted or been contacted by national news organisations with the intent of using this controversy as a “showcase on racism within the Republican Party”, in effect, to defame the name of her critics permanently and comprehensively. The plausibility of these remarks aside, such comments show an alarming attitude towards the general body and completely contradict statements made expressing a desire for an open discussion of the issues. At least one signatory noted that she had said “she had Marco Rubio confirmed” and another said that he was going to write a letter noting that the “racist treatment” Eyvana supposedly was subjected to was “exactly what was wrong with today’s Republican party”. These sorts of remarks are frightening to us all and seem indicative of an attitude intolerant of disagreement, much less dissent.

Conclusion

        Overall, we believe that the statement listed above is reason to investigate the relevant documents—the Operations Manual, the SGB by-laws, constitution, and judicial process—to determine whether any rules of the parent organisation were violated. We firmly believe that in order to truly achieve reconciliation we must hold new elections and have individuals who have acted against the spirit and letter of the Constitution, as well as generally contravening moral principles, face appropriate consequences. Without this, we, the above signed, believe that there will be a catastrophic crisis of confidence in the upcoming year.

While the original letter included names of students who signed it in support, members asked campus media to remove their names from published versions of the letter. The letter sent to Spectator had the names removed. However, a cached version of the Bwog post lists the names of the CUCR members who signed the letter.

Signed,

Members of the Board of Directors:

Ellie Dominguez, Social Director

Kyle Dontoh, Director of Finance

Peter Giraudo, Director of Intergroup Affairs

Members of the General Body:

Victoria Fernandez Grande

Zachary Neugut

Nathan Lyons

Gilad Norman Penn

Nicole Santoro

Eitan Neugut

Ben Sweetwood

Mira Frenkel

Christopher Sabaitis

Mimoun Cadosch Delmar

Brandon Marco

Kevin Zajc

CUCR Director of Communications Max Schwartz, CC '16, sent out an email to the group's general body early Monday morning saying that a town hall would be held Monday night to discuss students' concerns about the elections. See the email below:

Dear Republicans,
We would love to hear your concerns at a town hall tonight (Monday) at 10pm.  It will be officially and neutrally moderated by SGB representatives.  We're aiming to find a classroom in Hamilton and will update you as soon as we can possibly get a confirmation.
Looking forward to see you tonight,
CUCR 2013-2014 Executive Board

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