PBHA Concludes Strained Elections

Student watch polling and lock ballot boxes during recount

Al Franken ’73 isn’t the only Harvardian facing a contested election this month.

The race for president of Phillips Brooks House Association, the venerable community service giant, took an unexpected turn last week after the losing candidate contested the results.

Richard S. Kelley ’10 asked for a recount after the initial vote on Nov. 12 declared his opponent, Matthew S. Garcia ’10, the victor. A re-examination of the ballots yielded a different tally, prompting the organization’s board to hold a re-vote over the weekend.

This time, Kelley emerged the winner, capping a dramatic week that one top-ranking PBHA executive described as “an emotional and difficult time for both camps.”

The chief executive at PBHA, a registered non-profit that is one of Harvard’s biggest student groups, presides over a board of officers that oversees dozens of public service programs that count 1,600 volunteers in their ranks.

The field for the top spot began with three, as Garcia and Kelley faced off against Jessica G. Ranucci ’10 in the initial vote held last week. No candidate won a majority after the first ballot, which polled the current officers and representatives of each of PBHA’s 77 programs, members said.

A run-off commenced between Kelley and Garcia, the top two vote-getters, and Garcia was initially announced as president. (PBHA officials said they could not disclose vote totals.)

Elections for other positions then began, since PBHA runs its elections on a drop-down system where losing candidates can run for other posts.
But that night, Kelley said he would exercise a club bylaw that allows a candidate to contest the results.

In an interview yesterday, a week after the initial count, Kelley declined to elaborate his reasons—no justification is required by the by-laws—but said that he took the action “at the advice of a lot of people who didn’t think the process was where it should have been.”

An automatic recount was held that resulted in a different vote total, according to Frances M. Tompkins ’09, the outgoing PBHA president.
Because the officers could not ensure the security of the ballots since the initial count, a re-vote was scheduled for the weekend.

Kelley described the experience as “busy and stressful and emotional.” To ensure the security of the re-vote, which was held on Friday and Saturday, PBHA officials traded shifts as poll-watchers and voters were asked to produce identification. The votes were held in a ballot box that was continuously monitored. Overnight, the ballots were kept in a lockbox.
 
When the final ballot was tallied, Kelley was declared president, putting the folklore and mythology concentrator in Mather House at the helm of the century-old public service group.

“I’m impressed by how people have come together to set aside personal biases during an emotional and difficult time for both camps,” Tompkins said. “The Elections Committee and the candidates devoted so much time to ensure the process was as fair as it could be.”

Garcia echoed that sentiment. “I think the elections committee was trying to work as quickly as possible,” he said yesterday. “In the amount of time given, the elections committee was as fair as it could be.”

Garcia said he wanted to remain involved in PBHA, “but I don’t know yet what that capacity will be.”

A second slate of elections will be held in December to fill the remainder of the cabinet.

“I ran for president because this organization has been a vital part of my experience at Harvard,” Kelley said. “I’m looking forward to making a difference with a great team of new officers.”

—Staff writer Brittany M. Llewellyn can be reached at bllewell@fas.harvard.edu.