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The Harvard Kennedy School’s Student Government Election was Plagued by Apathy and Tensions. Then it was Suspended.

The Harvard Kennedy School's student government election was halted due to an IT failure.
The Harvard Kennedy School's student government election was halted due to an IT failure. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Miles J. Herszenhorn, Crimson Staff Writer

Students at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government will graduate with a master’s degree in public policy or public administration. But first, they are struggling to master electing a new student government.

The Kennedy School’s student government race had all the makings of a real-world election: tension, apathy, frustration, and IT issues.

After the unveiling of the election roster, students learned that candidates were running uncontested in several positions — including for president — and unsuccessfully attempted to reopen candidate nominations. Then, two hours after polls opened, the election committee realized dozens of students were left in the dark about the election process because they were not added to an email list.

Imogen M. A. Hobby, interim HKS student government president and Bethany M. Kirkpatrick, interim vice president, announced in an email to the student body on Tuesday that they halted and dissolved the election due to an IT failure.

“We will modify this year’s election timeline and reopen the nominations process for this year’s fall election to all students,” they wrote. “This decision was made in consultation with the HKS administration.”

HKS spokesperson Sofiya C. Cabalquinto confirmed in a statement Wednesday that first-year master’s in public administration students did not receive emails about the election because of a Kennedy School IT error.

“We regret the error and have established fail-safes so that this does not happen again,” Cabalquinto wrote. “The election process is self-governed by KSSG, but we support their decision to pause and reopen elections next week to ensure all students can participate.”

Voting will run in the new election from Sept. 27 to Sept. 28. Candidate nominations opened on Tuesday and closed on Wednesday. Candidates who confirm their nominations will be allowed to start campaigning on Friday.

Jose G. Altamirano, a second-year master’s in public policy student, said the election suffered from the “perfect storm of circumstances and lack of general knowledge about election bylaws.”

Kirkpatrick said she received many inquiries as to whether “reopening nominations was possible or if starting a write-in candidacy was possible” after the ballot revealed only one candidate for student body president.

“But many things are prohibited by the bylaws, including the elections committee changing the bylaws,” said Kirkpatrick, who serves on the elections committee. “So as a result, we weren’t able to proceed with a lot of those things students were interested in.”

While the student government’s bylaws prevented new nominations, they did allow for a “none” option to be added on the ballot for uncontested positions, a function that was erroneously not used last year, according to Kirkpatrick.

“Students could vote for the candidate and really give those uncontested candidates a mandate or indicate that they did not wish for the candidate to serve, which was an option that the bylaws require,” Kirkpatrick said.

Omar M. Awad, a first-year mid-career MPA student, was the sole candidate running for president before the election’s suspension.

“The process humbled me and I tried to disattach [sic] myself from what people are saying and them attacking the uncontested candidate,” Awad said.

“I even did not contest this notion of a Droop quota when they added it,” Awad said, referring to the “none” candidate option. “Even though the bylaws doesn’t really say anything about uncontested positions.”

Alexander R. Cooper, a second-year MPA student, said he believed Hobby and Kirkpatrick were “responding to and taking cues” from Kennedy School administrators.

“That’s a pretty big red flag to me,” Cooper said. “I think the student government needs to exist separate from the administration, not as an arms to enforce the administration’s policies and their preferences.”

Hobby wrote in a statement Thursday evening that “it has always been standard practice for committees to consult with administrators in order to utilise their institutional memory of the election process.”

“Ultimately, Bethany and I made and took responsibility for all decisions, with careful reference to the bylaws, and there was never a situation where administrators told us what we were or were not allowed to do,” Hobby wrote.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at miles.herszenhorn@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

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