SGA announces election results amongst controversy

Shivani Virani and Julia Haley are next year’s Student Government Association President and Executive Vice President. They will be inaugurated at the end of April at SGA’s annual banquet. // Photo by Bianca Jayraman Student Publications

This Tuesday at 12 p.m., students gathered at Harrison Square to hear the results of this year’s contested Student Government Association (SGA) Undergraduate Executive Ticket and Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR) elections. It was announced that Shivani Virani, third-year NEUR and Julia Haley, third-year PUBP, would be next year’s SGA President and Executive Vice President, respectively. They beat out Aditya “AP” Prabhakar, second-year NEUR, and Cole Scott, third-year BA, in a student body vote of 1152 to 836, according to the Undergraduate Elections HQ page of the SGA website.

Anticipation surrounding the elections has boiled over in the past weeks as on Friday, March 15, the original date when results were supposed to be disclosed, SGA announced that they would be delayed until further notice. Rumors on campus began to swirl regarding elections violations, and when a detailed results page appeared on the website Tuesday afternoon, it confirmed them — the SGA Elections Committee deducted 4% of Virani and Haley’s votes and 7% of Prabakhar and Scott’s votes due to violations. 

“I kept checking the SGA Instagram for results, but I didn’t see anything. I heard from my friend that there were election violations, but I have no idea what actually happened,” said Evan Leahy, second-year ISYE. 

Additionally, the Biochemistry Representative vote featured a vote deduction amid a highly contested election. Erin Leal,  third-year BCHM, received a 2% vote deduction for an election violation and lost to her opponent Dhwani Patel, second-year BCHM in a vote of 24-23. Prior to the deduction, the two candidates were tied, so Erin’s count was floor rounded to 23 to represent the deducted value. The deduction essentially acted as a tiebreaker between the two candidates, giving Patel the win. 

All three groups received a 2% deduction for violating Section V Subsection I of the SGA Elections Code, which states that “No campaign materials may display any image of a logo or trademark of the Georgia Institute of Technology, or any division thereof.” 

Virani and Haley received an additional 2% vote reduction, and Prabhakar and Scott received an additional 5% deduction for violating a different statute of the code. The election results page cites Section V A.6, Section V B.1 and Section V H of the Elections Code, which all have to do with standard campaigning practices. 

Section A of the code defines campaigning, which is prohibited outside of the official campaigning period, and Section B outlines certain campaigning protocols which students must follow. The specific code cited says that campaign members cannot solicit two or more students for votes at the same time
outside of the campaign period.

Section V H of the code is also cited under the same deduction, and it states that “the use of any Student Government Association logo, letterhead, office equipment, office supplies, meeting space or personnel is prohibited.”

Since all three statutes were listed for the same deduction, it implies that one action or series of actions incurred them simultaneously. However, due to the sensitive nature of the violations hearing process, SGA cannot release further details related to the specific actions that sparked the violations. Clare Chung, second-year ISYE, is the SGA Elections Committee Chair, and she explains how the process works and what factors play a role in determining the violations
and their associated penalties. 

“Once a violation is first filed, the Elections Committee decides on whether it is considered a major or minor violation as well as the penalty if necessary within 24 hours. General classifications are in the code, but decisions are based on discussions between committee members and are voted upon on a case-to-case basis depending on the exact evidence provided by the violation submitter. Details related to evidence are confidential but that is the general process,” Chung said.

According to the SGA Elections code, penalties can vary depending on the severity of the violation. Minor violations result in penalties like vote deductions, but major offenses, such as tampering with the elections process, permanently disqualify candidates from ever holding an SGA position and could incur disciplinary action from the Office of Student Integrity. 

“Penalties are decided in the process as above, through discussion and voting. Final decisions are by majority vote and the [Undergraduate Judiciary Cabinet] UJC also gives input if necessary. Again, the process depends on each election because unexpected things can always come up. In these cases, like for this election cycle, the timing of results can sometimes be unfortunately affected,” Chung said. 

The deliberations of these penalties depend significantly on the analysis of each individual case, and they include in-depth conversations with the Elections Committee, select members of the UJC and Dean of Students John Stein, who is also SGA’s staff advisor. Similar to previous years, there were multiple election violations that the committee reviewed and either found the parties to be not guilty or found that their actions did not amount to a penalty.

“Our responsibility as a committee is to interpret violations directly against the provided evidence and the words of the Elections Code. So we have very little room to consider broader or personal context while remaining unbiased, but we still have to be reasonable towards all the candidates. Ideally, we wouldn’t penalize anyone because the votes of the student body should hold the most weight in these elections. But when certain positions are contested, the natural competition makes that more difficult,” Chung said. 

Though the aforementioned candidates were penalized for election violations, the election results illustrate that they did not skew the Executive Ticket vote enough to significantly affect its outcome. 

As of Monday, all results are final, and Virani and Haley will be next term’s SGA President and Executive Vice President. At the announcement, Virani and Haley expressed their enthusiasm for the upcoming term. 

“We’re really looking forward to [the next year] and grateful to the Elections Committee for the smooth process, even if it was a little delayed. … There’s been a lot of things that this administration is still working on that we want to pick up and keep momentum on [while] starting our own initiatives in the new semester,” Haley said. 

This year’s SGA ballot also featured expansions in student representation, like an increased number of representatives for larger majors like CS. Amanda Ehrenhalt, second-year ISYE, will fill the previously vacant role of Athletics Representative this term. 

“I’m looking forward to increasing the alliance and connection between the Athletics community and the greater student body. Through close collaboration with the Georgia Tech Athletics Association and the Student Athlete Advisory Board, I hope to focus on events involving the Total Person Program and SGA. As I step into this role, I am eager to receive feedback from students in all spheres of campus with the goal to build our representation and foster an interconnected campus of all students across Tech,” Ehrenhalt said.

Notwithstanding the violations, all of the SGA candidates in this election season exhibited a strong dedication to serve the interests of the student body. Later this month, the new officials will be inaugurated at the SGA banquet, ushering in a suite of students eager to make an impact on student life at the Institute.