‘We can only speculate now the results of a truly fair election’: Student Union VP of Programming recalls Election Commissioner
Student Union Vice President of Programming junior Charlotte Pohl filed a petition to recall Election Commissioner junior Randal Walker from her position.
According to the Constitutional Council, the ruling is on the grounds that Walker acted in “gross negligence” of her duties.
The petition follows an interpretation request sent to the Constitutional Council by Pohl alleging that the Nov. 5 SU election should be rerun due to improper conduct. Student Union (SU) President Tyrin Truong, Vice President of Administration Nia Plump, Vice President of Finance Ariel Ashie, Vice President of Public Relations Beth Weisinger and Pohl will vote on Walker’s standing today.
While filling out the ballot on Nov. 5, Pohl noticed that she was able to vote for Arts & Sciences Council as an Olin Business student, even though only students enrolled in Arts & Sciences are allowed to vote for those positions. Another student pointed out to her that the ballot did not limit voters from selecting more than eleven candidates for Senate and Treasury, despite the instructions not to do so.
Pohl then texted Walker, who informed her that the ballot had been updated. However, when Pohl tried to submit her ballot, she received an error message and was unable to submit.
Pohl submitted an interpretation request to the Constitutional Council, Nov. 6, alleging that the election should be rerun because it was conducted improperly and that Walker should be recalled from her position.
“I didn’t feel like my voice was being heard and I didn’t feel what I was saying was being taken seriously or even considered at all,” Pohl said. “All of the elected and appointed officials of Student Union take an oath and the last line of that oath is to preserve and defend the constitution of [the] Student Union of Washington University in St. Louis. I was in the room when Randal was confirmed and when she took that oath, and I think that’s just blatantly disregarding the constitution.”
Pohl said that she was motivated to submit the petition not by Walker’s mistakes themselves, but instead by how she handled the situation.
“If she had done something to remedy those mistakes in a way that provided all of the students a fair chance of being elected and provided all of the constituents a fair opportunity to vote, I would not have submitted the recall petition,” Pohl said.
Walker extended Pohl the opportunity to manually submit her ballot, Nov. 7, two days after Election Day.
After receiving the petition, Constitutional Council Chief Justice junior Eric Cai issued a writ requesting that Walker, Truong and Weisinger not release the results until Nov. 9 at 5 p.m. to allow the Council time to investigate their validity.
On Nov. 7, the Election Commission released the results, along with a press release acknowledging the Council’s request to withhold the results.
Walker did not respond to requests for comment.
“We believe that the cons of calling another election far outweigh the pros,” the press release read. “If this election were nullified and the process was to be repeated, voter turnout would be exceptionally low and our legislative bodies would be far less representative as a result.”
According to the press release, only 29 people had submitted their ballots as of 12:08 a.m., when the error allowing voters to select more than 11 candidates was resolved. The press release then claimed that at that point, no one had actually voted for more than 11 candidates.
Because of the ballot’s methodology, it is impossible to determine what any individual person voted for, rendering Walker’s claim unverifiable. Walker informed the Council that the Commission came to that conclusion during their emergency meeting, Nov. 7, two days after the election, and since it is also impossible to determine when any individual person voted, the Council could not verify that 29 students submitted their ballots by 12:08 a.m. Cai added that one student voted for 12 candidates based on voting data from Campus Life.
The Council took particular issue not with the fact that the ballot contained errors, but Walker’s handling of the situation.
“I do not doubt that she had the best intentions,” Cai said. “But I do think she made some ill-advised choices and I think the consequences of those choices were pretty severe.”
Because the Commission chose to release the results prematurely, the Council wrote that no attempts to rectify the results could be made.
“We can only speculate now the results of a truly fair election,” the Council’s ruling read.
Cai said that due to the circumstances, the results should continue to stand.
“I don’t want to make it seem like the people who are elected in these elections, their status as an SU officer is a sham,” Cai said. “I think they all deserve to hold the offices that they do. It’s unfortunate that their positions have been marked with asterisks, you could say. It’s kind of complicated. There’s some nuance here.”
The Council voted unanimously to approve Pohl’s petition to recall Walker.
“It’s just a message that you need to really be here to support the student body,” Pohl said. “I just really hope that this shows people in the future that these are jobs that you need to take seriously.”
Cai maintained that the ruling was not an easy decision to make.
“No one on Con. Council takes any joy from this opinion,” Cai said. “Part of what makes this so disappointing, I think, is I spoke with Randal over the summer when we were initially appointing her. And I thought she was a fantastic candidate for election commissioner. It is kind of sad to see something like this have to happen.”
According to the constitution, the vote traditionally would go to the affected body, the Election Commission. Cai said that because the Commission was complicit in many of the actions the Council found negligent, the vote should go to SU as a whole. However, the Council determined that giving Senate and Treasury the vote was too divergent from the constitution and that having just the five executive officers vote was the best possible option.
Cai admitted the conflict of interest of Pohl being included in the recall vote as the petitioner, and pointed out that another conflict of interest is the fact that Troung, Plump and Cai all initially appointed Walker.
“It’s certainly not the perfect outcome. I don’t think there is a perfect outcome here with regards to who do we send it to?” Cai said. “I think the conflict of interest is not severe enough in this case to completely invalidate any vote that they have on this.”
Truong disagreed with the Council’s ruling of gross negligence and said that he believes Walker has learned from her mistakes.
“A lot of times, people within Student Union say, ‘Give grace’ or ‘Don’t assume the worst intent,’ but we pick and choose who we afford that to,” Truong said. “If we hold one person to a standard, we should hold everyone to that same standard. I don’t think recall petitions and publicly embarrassing people is the answer.”
The five executive members will vote after hearing statements from the Council and Walker and being given time for questioning.
“This opinion is the result of many, many, many hours of investigation and deliberation and research,” Cai said. “Given how much evidence we’ve provided, if exec chose to deny the petition for recall, I would like to see some substantive claims on their end as to why. What I don’t want to see is a 15 page opinion on Con Council’s part and just a brief email on exec’s part.”
Truong characterized the petition as an example of callout culture, and referenced the fact that Walker and Pohl ran against each other for VP of Programming last spring.
“Students didn’t send us here to play petty politics,” Truong said. “They sent us here to make change and improve the campus experience, and I’m hoping that after this, we can move forward and continue to do that.”