Krishnamurthy Wins by Two in Contentious AAS Elections
Issue   |   Wed, 04/12/2017 - 01:55
Aditi Krishnamurthy ’17 was elected AAS president by a two-vote margin in a runoff election against Phillip Yan ’18. Judiciary Council complaints were filed against Yan and third presidential candidate Will Jackson ’18 in the initial election.

After a controversial election process that included Judiciary Council (JC) complaints and a runoff election, the Amherst Association of Students (AAS) announced on Wednesday morning, April 12 that the student body elected Aditi Krishnamurthy ’18 as AAS president for the upcoming year. Krishnamurthy received only two more votes than did fellow candidate Phillip Yan ’18.

AAS executive board elections took place on Thursday, April 6. Will Jackson ’18, Krishnamurthy and Yan ran for president.
On Saturday, April 8, the AAS announced election results for vice president, treasurer, secretary and JC chair. Due to JC complaints filed against Jackson and Yan, however, results for the presidential election were not released.

According to an AAS email sent to the student body on Monday, April 10, two complaints were submitted to the JC chair on April 6 regarding an article of the AAS Constitution, which states that “No signs, posters, or printed material regarding a referendum or election shall be allowed within reasonable view of a public Amherst College computer.”

“Will Jackson had table tents in the front room of Valentine Dining Hall and Phillip Yan tabled in the atrium of Valentine,” wrote JC chair Cosette Lias ’17. “Both locations have public computers.”

The complaints against Jackson and Yan were deemed invalid by the JC. Lias wrote that the computer in the front room of Valentine is “not in practice a public computer and that the table tents were not within reasonable view of the computer.” The JC also concluded that Yan’s campaign presence did not have reasonable “potential to affect the outcome of the election.”

Any registered Amherst College student may dispute an election by filing a complaint. According to AAS President Karen Blake ’17, students have protections under the constitution to submit JC complaints anonymously to “insure against retaliation or harassment of the student who submitted the complaint.”

Through his public presidential campaign and personal Facebook pages, Yan alleged on Sunday that Paul Gramieri ’17 filed both complaints on behalf of Krishnamurthy. “The results of this election were not released because Aditi Krishnamurthy sent a complaint regarding my campaign to Paul Gramieri, who filed it with the Judiciary Council,” he wrote.

Yan disputed the validity of the complaint in his statement, writing that “[a]ny person who stopped by my table at Val will tell you that we did not have posters or signs. We had index cards with peppermints attached, laid out on our table. I dismiss the argument that these index cards somehow constitute ‘signs.’ These index cards were no larger than 3x5. They were not hung up, nor taped to a wall.”

Noting that Krishnamurthy was the only candidate against whom a complaint was not filed, Yan questioned the intent and purpose of the complaint. He said in a later interview that a member of his campaign staff allegedly conversed with Krishnamurthy about Krishnamurthy’s email to Gramieri about the complaint prior to his filing on Thursday night.

Initially, Yan said, his team had not planned on releasing any statement until after the JC verdict came out, but changed their mind after a member of his campaign staff reported that members of the opposing camp were allegedly spreading a version of events depicting him as ill-intentioned.

“After that, I said, ‘We need to give them our side of the story,’” Yan said.

He said that Krishnamurthy discussed the complaint with Gramieri before it was released to the student body.

“We can’t speculate as to Paul’s intentions, but we do think that there is very, very reasonable chance that Paul was influenced by the interactions he had with Aditi and the conversations they had,” Yan said. “We confronted Paul yesterday, and we said, ‘Paul, we have witnesses that will testify that you had multiple conversations with Aditi about the complaint. His response was not to deny it but to ask, ‘Who are these people? I want to know.’”

Krishnamurthy denied any involvement with the complaint in a comment on Yan’s Facebook status, but Yan still said he believes that “the complainant and Aditi” influenced each other.

Krishnamurthy said in an email interview that she did ask Gramieri whether Yan’s tabling in Valentine while the polls were open was constitutional, but did not ask or encourage Gramieri to file a complaint. According to Krishnamurthy, Jackson and “many of my peers” also spoke to her to question the constitutionality of Yan’s actions. Jackson confirmed this statement.

“I didn’t discuss filing a JC complaint with Paul, rather simply asked him whether the tabling was against the rules or not,” she wrote. “There is a difference between asking the Elections Chair — a neutral body — a question, and collusion, as Phillip is claiming.”

To her, filing the complaint was “due process being executed.”

“Yes, it’s frustrating when a complaint is filed and slows the election process, but it is completely unproductive for said complaint to be framed as a personal attack,” she added.

Gramieri also denied Yan’s allegations, saying that he was not influenced by a preference for one candidate over the others. Multiple students approached him about the constitutionality of Yan’s actions, he said, and he filed the complaint to ensure a fair election.

“I’m a big stickler for the rules,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I was the first treasurer in three years not to have a budget deficit: because I made sure our rules were followed to the tee.”

Gramieri said he had no ill intent in filing the complaints, and that he is friends with both Jackson and Krishnamurthy and has worked with Yan on the Senate. “I did not make the JC complaints as a personal attack against any candidate at all,” he said. “There was the concern, albeit a slight concern, that [Yan’s materials] were within eyeshot of a public computer. Given that that’s a rule, I wanted to make sure it was addressed.”

The AAS, he said, is trying to reestablish its credibility, and the only way it can succeed is if “we have students leading the student government who have been elected fairly and democratically.”

Yan, however, disputed the validity of the complaint, noting that the constitution bars signs, posters or printed materials, not tabling or index cards.

“Posters and signs are materials that are hanged up as a fixture in order to continually project information vis-à-vis these cards we were handing out were giveaways, like business cards, with our information on it,” he said. “It’s not printed material — we hastily scrawled on it with pen and highlighter.”

He further pointed to precedent rulings in which the JC deemed similar complaints invalid. According to the AAS website, a complaint alleging a violation of a clause which prohibits “signs, posters and printed material regarding a referendum or election … within 25 feet of Valentine on the day of voting” was found invalid during the AAS E-Board elections for the 2012-2013 academic year. The ruling stated that “although the rationale and spirit of the clause pertaining Valentine made the clause relevant at the time of ratification, the clause is no longer relevant due to the change in voting medium.”

Because none of the candidates garnered more than 50 percent of the votes, which the constitution requires for an official win, the AAS proceeded to conduct a runoff election between the two candidates who received the most votes, Yan and Krishnamurthy. Polls were open through Monday, April 10. Krishnamurthy received 327 votes while Yan received 325.

“[W]hile Phillip’s speculation was correct that Paul filed the JC complaint, his public statement was not appropriate,” Blake said in an email interview. “We have no evidence to prove that Paul filed on behalf of Aditi. Rather, we know his concerns laid with the student body. We hope that following this situation, the newly elected AAS will review and update its constitution.”

According to Jackson, it is customary to undergo a review of the AAS constitution every two years, but “it’s been four or five years since that’s been done.”

“I think the spirit of the constitution should take precedent over the rules in some cases,” Jackson said. “Even if they had found the complaint against Phillip valid, that would’ve resulted in a three-week or four-week-long process … It would’ve been a month before we would have a president, and while that’s according to the rules, it would’ve been terrible for the functioning of the AAS.”

As a presidential candidate, Yan said he doesn’t want the controversies to continue. “I just want it to end as peacefully as possible,” he said.