Grad Student Council Election Draws Large Voter Turnout

At the end of one of the longest and most contentious elections in recent memory, current President Cammi N. Valdez, along with a slate of other incumbent candidates, maintained control of five of the six contested positions on the Graduate Student Council on Wednesday night.

Valdez beat Andrew J. Pope with a vote of 34-27 in a four-hour meeting that included accusations of breaches of election protocol and a debate over the role of the GSC in political debates on campus.

Over the past week, candidates have publicly raised concerns over the late submission of candidate statements by several of the incumbents.

In an email to the delegates from each department in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences—the group of eligible voters in Wednesday’s election—Valdez refuted these accusations.

“No candidate, incumbent or otherwise, has had an unfair advantage during these elections,” she wrote.

Amidst this controversy, the turnout at Wednesday’s meeting, at about 100 delegates, was nearly triple the usual at a GSC election.

At the meeting, the Election Committee—which had only been officially appointed earlier that night—took up the question of the eligibility of the candidates who had submitted their blurbs past the March 16 deadline. After the Election Committee presented the details of the submissions of each candidate, a general vote of the delegates decided not to disqualify the candidates in question.

But even with the questions of election protocol put to rest, the controversies of the night continued.

A pattern of conflicting ideology emerged between the incumbent candidates and their more activism-oriented opponents, many of whom were involved in this fall’s Occupy Harvard movement, during the speeches and question and answer session. Candidates for the top three positions of the GSC—Pope for President, Summer A. Shafer for Vice President, and Rudi Batzell for Secretary—have continued to be active in the movement after the dismantling of the camp in the Yard in December.

In the question and answer session, a delegate, noting the number of Occupy affiliates on this year’s ballot, asked each candidate to expand on their political affiliations.

In response, Pope emphasized that he thought political affiliation should not be tied to ability to be an effective leader of the graduate student community.

“I was shocked that the challenging candidates were required to disclose our articipation in activism on campus,” Pope said in an interview after the election.

By 9:45 p.m., the pool of delegates had dwindled to 65 voters. At the end of the meeting, the incumbent candidates, led by Valdez and Vice President Cynthia P. Hsu, maintained their positions on the Graduate Student Council.

Despite the controversy of the previous hours, the leadership of the Council emerged from the meeting with a positive outlook for the coming year.

“I felt this was a great meeting. I was really happy with the Elections Committee. We had a fair election, irregularities aside. I look forward to a reinvigorated GSC,” said Jennifer A. Sheehy-Skeffington, the at-large representative for international students and an Occupy affiliate.

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