Residence Hall Association (RHA) President Aaron Jordan (20C) is drafting a letter calling to impeach Student Government Association (SGA) President Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C) after Ma fired Elections Board Chair Justin Cohen (20C) over winter break.
Cohen and Ma disagreed over whether the Spring 2019 elections should be held before or after spring break, according to Ma and Jordan. After Cohen decided to hold elections before spring break, Ma fired him.
Jordan, who serves as an Elections Reform Committee member, accused Ma of knowingly violating the SGA Constitution and Code of Elections when he fired Cohen.
“It’s definitely a 100 percent abuse of power and it’s more of a just like not only an abuse of power but also the president just ignoring what the rules are in terms of student government,” Jordan said. “He’s blatantly ignoring it in this situation, specifically when it comes to Justin.”
Ma is the head of SGA’s executive branch, and the legislative branch of SGA is responsible for overseeing elections, but the role can be proxied to an elections board, according to the Constitution. An Elections Board member can be removed by a two-thirds vote of the SGA legislature, according to the Code of Elections.
The Elections Board chair and divisional commissioners determine the calendar for Spring elections, according to the Code of Elections.
Ma justified his termination decision by referring to the Constitution’s clause, which states “All non-elected members and officers serve at the pleasure of the President of the SGA.” The Elections Board chair is appointed by the SGA president. Ma appointed Yiyang Mao (21B) as Cohen’s replacement. Regardless of when the elections are, the length of Ma’s tenure will remain the same, Ma said.
A two-thirds majority vote by the legislature is needed to impeach the president, according to the Constitution.
Cohen declined the Wheel’s request for an interview but wrote in a Jan. 15 email to the Wheel that he would petition the constitutionality of his dismissal to the Constitutional Council.
“The president of SGA has no business or authority to interfere with an independent and impartial Election Board, and his actions have significantly compromised the integrity of our elections,” Cohen wrote. “His actions are not only unconstitutional but also a gross abuse of power.”
Cohen headed the Elections Reform Committee, which was formed after a contentious Spring 2018 election, until he resigned on Jan. 5. Ma fired Cohen the day before.
Jordan said Ma contacted him via Facebook Messenger on Jan. 4 because he knew Jordan also wanted to hold the elections before spring break. Although Jordan said he showed Ma that the Elections Code and Constitution did not authorize him to select the election date, Ma did not budge.
Jordan declined to share his Facebook message exchange with Ma.
SGA Executive Vice President John Priddy (19C) wrote in a Jan. 15 email to the Wheel that he was not consulted prior to Ma’s decisions to fire Cohen and disagreed with the removal.
“All I heard from our advisers and other members of SGA was that Justin was doing a fantastic job in his role, and was going to fix many of the issues from the Spring 2018 elections,” Priddy wrote. “Elections are fast approaching and many of the ideas and initiatives Justin was going to implement were suddenly halted inexplicably.”
Jordan said Lindsay Gorby (19C), who is not an elected or appointed student government representative, is also preparing to present grievances against Ma to SGA and call for Ma’s impeachment. Gorby declined to comment.
In Spring 2018, the Constitutional Council recommended that “the Student Legislature move to impeach the Chair under the authority of Elections Code Part II, Article 9 Section 2, Clause A” after two College Council legislators filed a challenge against then-Elections Board Chair Betty Zhang (20C).