Another year, another election scandal. I’m not writing an endorsement. I implore anyone reading this to refer to the Emory Wheel’s election guide and the Editorial Board’s candidate endorsements. Rather, I want to speak about the systemic disenfranchisement of students across Emory’s campus that SGA and the Board of Elections are continuing by failing to conduct an equitable election. 

On March 17, Elisabet Ortiz (24C) was disqualified from the race for Student Government Association (SGA) president due to her temporary status as a gap year student. In an Instagram post, Ortiz expressed her gap year was not taken by choice but necessity while she handled her emancipation from an abusive family. Instead of giving her an opportunity to run and represent the student body, the Elections Board unanimously voted to disqualify her. 

Mental health, physical health and legal matters are only a few of the circumstances that require students to take time off of school, and all are extremely valid. Candidates should not be disqualified from participating in the Emory community for such extenuating circumstances. During her gap year, Ortiz has worked tirelessly through Students for Students to make Emory’s campus more equitable. Part of this work includes fighting for a $15 minimum wage. Instead of being siphoned off from their support system, students should be encouraged and able to serve the Emory community even during their time off. Rather, due to extenuating situations, her circumstances have precluded her, and any students like her, from serving the Emory community. If elected SGA president, Ortiz would have the unique opportunity to highlight marginalized voices like herself and serve the entire student body, something that members of SGA should embody. 

Ortiz’s disqualification comes from a mishap of words. The Code of Elections outlined by the Board of Elections is inconsistent with the SGA Constitution which simply states in Article VII Section 2, Part 1, Clause A that the SGA president must be enrolled as an undergraduate school in the University. On the other hand, the Code of Elections, which supposedly draws from the SGA Constitution, has slightly altered language, noting that the candidates have to be enrolled as full-time students. This inconsistency should be clarified by future SGA governing bodies, and Ortiz’s current candidacy should be approved. 

Members of SGA have expressed their discontent with the discrepancy in language as well. Former SGA Speaker of the Legislature Joseph Banko (23C) issued a statement Saturday morning addressing his concerns. In a statement to The Wheel, Banko argued that the code of elections draws from the SGA constitution. Since Ortiz will be enrolled in the University in fall 2022, she should have the right to run for SGA president. These glaring contradictions present in the election codes should be clarified and expanded to allow more students in extenuating circumstances like Ortiz to run. The elections code should look to the SGA constitution, and instead mandate that students have to have been enrolled in the university for at least one semester previously, and be eligible for undergraduate student status for the upcoming year. 

The Constitutional Council should appeal Ortiz’s candidacy and implore SGA to revise their election codes to shift the eligibility requirements to grant non full-time students to run in the case of extenuating circumstances including but not limited to mental health, legal issues and other significant circumstances. Such a step would allow the Board of Elections to determine candidates’ eligibility on a case-by-case basis. The codes are vague and disallow students with precarious circumstances from running, which further constricts the representation SGA claims to embody. Disallowing students who have faced hardships to participate in student government, as Banko pointed out, is a deeply entrenched problem in SGA. Skewing the participation solely to full time students eclipses the realities of numerous students SGA should work to build community with. Emory’s population is not a monolith, and SGA should not be solely catering to students who enjoy the majority of rights and privileges. 

After a year of criticism surrounding their performative resolutions, SGA should use this opportunity to prove they care about marginalized students like Ortiz by listening to their needs and making candidate eligibility more open in their governing documents. Increasing access to the election only increases the legitimacy of Emory’s main undergraduate governing body. As we’ve seen with countless elections throughout the country, restricting access to candidacy and voting only perpetuates the current status quo, and does more harm than good. The more voices involved in student government, the higher likelihood diverse voices across campus will be heard and validated. 

Furthermore, there is no harm in delaying the election in support of a fairer election process, one that gives all undergraduate students an opportunity to voice their true desires for president. All candidates running for SGA should have a fair opportunity to prove their worth. Delaying the election would allow students to have an opportunity to choose who they truly wish to vote for, instead of forcing students to choose between a vote of no confidence and an unfair election. 

SGA Presidential candidates Alyssa Stegall (21Ox, 23C) and Eleanor Liu (21Ox, 23B) also deserve an equitable election. They have campaigned tirelessly and diligently and do not deserve a potential victory to be overshadowed by the gross mishandling of the current election. Students across campus would doubt the legitimacy of the results, and SGA would be further criticized for their disconnect with the student body. Without postponing the election, the crumbling faith students have in SGA would completely disintegrate, leaving the elected president marred by yet another scandal. 

The beginning of the SGA constitution states: “We, the undergraduate students of Emory University, in order to participate in the determination of undergraduate policy, establish a responsible and equitable undergraduate student government, ensure the basic student rights of personal freedom and pursuit of a quality education and provide the opportunity for responsible individual and collective action.” How can SGA uphold its promise to be equitable when marginalized students are left out of the election process?

The Constitutional Council should delay the election, then override the Elections Board decision and allow Ortiz to run. If not, students should issue a vote of no confidence and implore SGA to end their inequitable election policies. Only after these issues are amended can we have a fair and trustworthy election. 

Rachel Broun (23C) is a member of the Editorial Board.

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Rachel Broun (23C) is from Carrboro, North Carolina, majoring in anthropology and women's, gender and sexuality studies. She writes for the Editorial Board. Outside of the Wheel, Broun often finds herself doing crafts, working for Theater Emory and watching "The Real Housewives" series.