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The Citizen

A Real HKS Case Study: Student to Elections Committee: ‘Own Up’

By Charles Seigel, MC/MPA ‘12

I am the student who unintentionally set this ball rolling because of what simply seemed to be a glaring error. On the day the election results were announced, I forwarded the KSSG email to the mid-career program directors, inquiring if my recollection was right that we had fewer than 212 students. In short, I was told that was correct and they were looking into it. I figured this would have either been quickly noticed and corrected by the elections committee, or at least they would do something when it was brought to their attention.

Hearing nothing, I eventually chose to file a challenge after I calculated that even the minimum number of “over votes” could have changed the election result. When the elections committee finally asked to meet with me on October 7, I was told that the committee had already decided that rerunning the election would be too “disruptive” and they would simply fix the problem in the next election. Since this issue has become public, I have heard from many other students who are angry that they had never even been informed there was an issue.

The effort to hide the problem and not deal with it, thereby refusing to recognize that others might feel disenfranchised, has made the problem much worse. If the elections committee would just apologize and publicly acknowledge they made a mistake, that they should have acted sooner, and show what they’re doing to correct the problem next time, the issue might very well go away. Many of us are more offended by the disregard a committee of our fellow students has shown for the voters in an election, regardless of its import, then the problem in the election itself.

Some of our fellow students here at the Kennedy School come from countries where elections don’t even exist, or are fought at the cost of people’s lives; others find their voice treated with contempt by their leaders, with clearly manipulated “elections” conducted without a care for the true voice of the people. We all understand that the election of school class representatives in this context is at worst a “tempest in a teapot” and not a critical issue when compared to what our classmates, their families and fellow citizens go through to exercise their voice in their society. But for that very reason, and as a school of government with students from around the world studying about honesty and ethics and the proper conduct of civil society, we should take any election seriously enough to run it properly and react when that does not happen, even by accident. And at the very least, own up to errors and fix them quickly and publicly.