As chair of the Election Commission, David I. Monteiro ’04 has been quietly shaping virtually every aspect of the election with his rigid—and somewhat unconventional—enforcement of campaign rules.
Monteiro has drawn criticism from some camps for the commission’s decision to impose a gag order on candidates before the official start of campaigning.
In a controversial move, the commission reinterpreted the council’s campaign rules to mean that candidates could not speak to the press or otherwise publicly discuss their candidacies until the official start of the campaign last Monday.
Several candidates argued that the gag order would unfairly tilt the election toward insider candidates with greater name recognition by allowing them to curry support privately within the council while leaving outsider candidates no venue to begin a public debate over the issues.
One outsider ticket—that of presidential candidate David M. Darst ’04 and running mate Shira S. Simon ’04—has been particularly critical of Monteiro.
Simon complained that the commission dismissed illegal posters seeming to support presidential candidate Rohit Chopra ’04 as sabotage without a proper investigation, while the commission assumed the Darst-Simon campaign was responsible for illegally placing posters bearing their names.
“It’s hard that the burden of proof is on us,” she says. “I really find the Election Commission things unfair so far.”
The commission has fined Darst and Simon a total of $88 so far for campaign violations—far more than any other ticket.
Kyle D. Hawkins ’02, a former chair of the Election Commission, confirms that Monteiro’s position is an influential one.
“The chair can set the tone of the Election Commission,” Hawkins says.
Whether the tone Monteiro has set and the rulings he has made will ultimately affect the outcome of the election is impossible to say. The soft-spoken and thoughtful commissioner says he has just tried to ensure an honest race.
“I think we’re a police force, but in the positive sense of the word,” Monteiro says. “We’re a force for campaign fairness, something to be feared but also a tool that can be used to ensure that a standard set of rules is followed.”
Since campaigning began, the Election Commission has been meeting privately for three hours at a time to investigate reported violations and decide on punishments.
Composed of three council members and three students not on the council, in addition to its chair, the Election Commission was established four years ago to enforce fair campaigning as dictated by the council bylaws.
Appointed by the council’s executive board and confirmed by a vote of the council, these seven students are endowed with the power to do anything from fining candidates to disqualifying them from the race. Their rulings cannot be appealed by the council.
The commission has absolute power, he says, for a reason: the job consists of “doing what others don’t want to do, but what has to be done.”
On the whole, he says he has enjoyed the experience.
“Its nice when everything goes smoothly,” he says. “The worst part is investigating.”
This year posters supporting Chopra appeared before the start of the campaign, and “Rohit” was scrawled in red pencil on signs throughout the Yard. Chopra’s campaign denied responsibility and no culprit has been found.
Though supporters of other campaigns agreed that Chopra was not to blame, some grumbled at what they saw as a relatively lax investigation.
Monteiro stands by the commission’s handling of the incidents.
He also defends his ban on contact with the media before the start of the campaign—a change from past years, when candidates informed The Crimson of their intention to run weeks before the election and began openly planning their bids.
Monteiro points to Section 41 of the council bylaws, which holds that “candidates may not begin campaigning until certified by the Election Commission” and also specifies a date for the certification.
“There was no other decision we could make without effectively contradicting the bylaws,” Monteiro says.
Hawkins, who chaired the commission for the past two presidential campaigns, disagrees. He says the bylaws should be interpreted to mean that candidates can say whether they are planning to run but cannot begin promulgating their platforms.
The Man Behind the Job
Reticent and humble by nature, Monteiro is a figure shrouded in some degree of mystery. As chair of the Election Commission—which he fastidiously explains is a misnomer, since his actual title is “administrative assistant” to the commission—Monteiro has earned himself a reputation for diligence and stringency.
“I can’t imagine anyone else as a chair,” says commission member Melissa A. Eccleston ’04. “Kyle Hawkins, who was a renowned former chair, had enormous shoes to fill. But David has filled them.”
Monteiro, who hails from the suburb of Norman, Mass., is a psychology concentrator who says he has always been intrigued by issues of fairness in law and politics.
In high school he belonged to Junior State of America, a national political organization, where he wrote the group’s bylaws for the northeastern states.
At Harvard, he has just been elected the executive director of the Small Claims Advisory Service and is considering applying to law school.
Doubting he would have time to commit to full-time council membership, Monteiro considered himself better suited to the Election Commission.
“I thought it would be interesting to view the council elections from the inside, to get to know the candidates in a way that no one else does,” Monteiro says.
Though he admits his job is not always easy, he insists it is very rewarding.
“The best part of it all is putting in time, energy and effort for several months, and then seeing a candidate actually elected and knowing that you had some part in it all,” he says.