Harvard Kennedy School of Government students will graduate with a master’s degree in public policy or public administration. But first they struggle to master the election of a new student government.
The Kennedy School student government race had all the makings of a real election: tension, apathy, frustration, and IT problems.
After the unveiling of the electoral roll, the students learned that candidates ran unchallenged for several positions, including president, and unsuccessfully attempted to resume nominating candidates. Then, two hours after polling stations opened, the Elections Committee found that dozens of students were being left in the dark about the voting process because they were not put on an email list.
Imogen MA Hobby, interim president of the HKS student government, and Bethany M. Kirkpatrick, interim vice president, announced in an email to the student body Tuesday that they have halted and dissolved the election due to an IT outage.
“We will be changing this year’s election schedule and reopening the nomination process for this year’s fall election to all students,” they wrote. “This decision was made in consultation with the HKS administration.”
HKS spokeswoman Sofiya C. Cabalquinto confirmed in a statement Wednesday that first-year masters in public administration students did not receive emails about the election due to an IT glitch at the Kennedy School.
“We regret the error and have taken precautions to ensure this does not happen again,” Cabalquinto wrote. “The election process is managed by the KSSG itself, but we support their decision to pause and resume elections next week to ensure all students can participate.”
Voting will take place in the new election on September 27-28. Nominations for candidates opened on Tuesday and closed on Wednesday. Candidates who confirm their nomination will be allowed to start campaigning on Friday.
Jose G. Altamirano, a second-year Masters in Public Policy student, said the election suffered from the “perfect storm of circumstances and lack of common knowledge of the constitution of the election.”
Kirkpatrick said she received many inquiries as to whether “a reopening of nominations would be possible, or whether a written candidature would be possible” after the vote resulted in 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 is a member of the elections committee. “As a result, we weren’t able to follow up on many of the things the students were interested in.”
According to Kirkpatrick, while the student council’s charter prevented new nominations, it allowed adding a “none” option on the ballot for uncontested positions, a feature that mistakenly went unused last year.
“Students could vote for the nominee and truly mandate these uncontested candidates or state that they did not want the nominee to serve, which was an option mandated by the bylaws,” Kirkpatrick said.
Omar M. Awad, a freshman MPA, was the only candidate running for president before the election was suspended.
“The process humbled me and I tried to break free [sic] me by what people are saying and they are attacking the undisputed candidate,” Awad said.
“I didn’t even dispute that notion of a droop quota when they added it,” Awad said, referring to the “none” candidate option. “Even if the statute says nothing about undisputed offices.”
Alexander R. Cooper, a sophomore MPA, said he believed Hobby and Kirkpatrick would “respond to and take cues from the Kennedy School administrators.”
“That’s a pretty big red flag for me,” Cooper said. “I think the student government needs to exist separately from the administration, not as a weapon to enforce the administration’s policies and preferences.”
Hobby wrote in a statement Thursday night that “it has always been common for committees to consult with administrators to use their institutional memory of the electoral process.”
“Ultimately, Bethany and I made all decisions and took responsibility for them, with careful reference to the bylaws, and there was never a situation where administrators told us what we could or couldn’t do,” Hobby wrote.
– Employee Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.