Election Czar Removed From Position

Senate Delays Student Body Elections Following Alleged Czar Misconduct

In an emergency meeting late Tuesday evening, members of Senate unanimously voted to terminate the employment of Election Czar Aaron G. Following this, a statement was released to the Quest, and election candidates received a message apologizing for “what has been a more convoluted election cycle than was necessary.” Election Czar Ares Carnathan has taken on sole management of the election, to be supported by Election Liaisons Kiana Cunningham-Rodriguez and Margot Becker, and the deadline to submit candidacy petitions has been delayed to Tuesday, November 22.

Senate alleged that Aaron did not take care of certain job responsibilities in a timely manner, failed to create promotional material which they had said they would make in interviews, and limited their Co-Czar’s ability to perform his duties by failing to include him in business. Additionally, Aaron allegedly gave certain candidates preferential treatment and attempted to influence the decisions of some candidates in a manner that Senate found unethical. Overall, Senate found that they had treated their important position as Election Czar with apathy. Senate also found that Aaron had breached the honor principle “in communications with and about others, in not working proactively to ascertain the scope of his role, distributing false information to candidates, [and] potentially sharing information selectively on the basis of race.”

Over the final week of their tenure, Aaron requested to run as a candidate in their own election, informed candidates that they would limit the number of people able to run for a Senate position in order to guarantee a seat to everyone running for that position, and privately contacted two candidates encouraging them to run for a less competitive position due to their personal belief that the candidates would otherwise lose.

In an interview with the Quest, Aaron stated that Senate had not given them the guidance or support they required to do the job they’d been tasked with. They remarked that, while they did not dispute Senate’s decision to fire them, they felt that Senate shared some blame for not helping them succeed.

In a statement released to the Quest, Election Liaison Margot Becker said that Senate terminated Aaron’s position “given a pattern of behavior over the course of the last week which led Senate to lose confidence in his ability to run a fair election.”

According to Senate Bylaws, student body employees such as Election Czars may only have their employment terminated “In instances where an appointed student has failed to perform the full duties of their role.” In the event that such a situation arises, “the Appointments Committee may recommend the removal of that student from their appointment. To recommend an appointee’s removal, the Committee must vote unanimously. The Committee may only vote after making a reasonable effort to ascertain the appointee’s track record in their position, whether by consulting with the appointee or their supervisor.” Senate Bylaws also note that “All recommendations for removal from an appointed position require a two-thirds majority vote from the whole Senate.”

In accordance with this doctrine, Appointments Committee (App Com) met at 8:45 on Tuesday evening to discuss Aaron’s alleged missteps, and following a presentation of 18 pages of evidence by Election Liaison Kiana Cunningham-Rodriguez and a discussion, the committee voted unanimously to move forward to recommend removal. At 10:00 PM that same night, the full Senate convened to once again go over the allegations and the evidence, and also voted unanimously for Aaron’s removal from their position. All Senators and executives currently running in this election — Student Body President Safi Zenger, Head Treasurer Sean Brown, and Senators Jefferson Ratliffe and Lennox Reeder — recused themselves from and did not attend the proceedings surrounding Aaron’s termination. Since App Com Chair Jefferson Ratliffe recused himself, Vice President Margot Becker served as chair of the committee on his behalf.

Brewing concerns over Aaron’s handling of the election came to a head on Monday, November 14, when they sent out an email to all six candidates running for one of four available two-term seats on Senate, informing them that no one had registered to run for the two open one-term seats also up for election. “If it remains as such not only will two of you not be able to be Senators this upcoming season but there will be two missing seats and the government will be stunted for another semester,” they wrote in the email, adding, “I understand this sounds confusing, I wouldn’t do it this way myself, but I am following the rules that have been given to me.”

In a following email they added, “I highly implore you to change over, it not only will allow everyone to be a senator next term but shows a devotion to the student body.”

Ultimately, one candidate switched races following this email. Cunningham-Rodriguez informed the Quest that this kind of meddling in campaigns by an Election Czar was both unusual and concerning.“It didn’t feel right that there was added pressure from someone in Aaron’s position on our candidates,” she said.

In an interview with the Quest, Aaron stated that they sent out the email because “I was very concerned about the idea of a government without two Senators next semester,” and expressed that this was the best solution they could come up with to address the issue. Their intent was to say that, “if y’all play this right, y’all can be the Senators next semester.”

Even more concerning to the Election Liaisons was a follow up email where Aaron stated, “If any of you want to be assured a seat next semester please feel free to reach out and ask to change registration. I will cap out joining the one semester race once it has two people, and will tell ya’ll [sic] when/if that happens.” This claim — that Aaron would “cap” entrance into the election so that everyone who entered was guaranteed a seat — was also highly alarming to Election liaisons.

In a statement to election candidates following Aaron’s termination, Becker wrote, “I want to tell you all right now that you should run for the seat that will suit you, and your goals for the student body most effectively. For those of you who have switched your seat under pressure from Aaron, please feel free to change your preference back if you so desire.” Becker also emphasized, “There will be absolutely no cap on the number of people allowed to run in any election…Any information any of you received about capping these candidacies was not given by someone authorized to make these decisions.”

In correspondence with the Quest, Aaron claimed that the term “capping” was a slip of the tongue and that they never truly intended to “cap” the election. They wrote, “I recognize my language on capping here can be misleading… The praising [sic] of ‘assured’ was my prediction of what would happen if the candidates acted within rational best interests.”

Normally, Senate only elects two-term Senators, but this election cycle they made the decision to offer two one-term seats in order to even out the number of Senators elected each semester. In a statement to current candidates Becker remarked, “We hope that these seats will provide an opportunity for younger candidates to try senate out for one term before running for a full term in the spring, or for candidates with short term projects to have the opportunity of a seat on senate without the long-term time commitment.”

Aaron, however, expressed incredulity that anyone would willingly run for a shorter term, stating, “The type of person that’s going to run for Senate, realistically, is the type of person that’s going to go for two terms.” Later, he added, “I knew that the incentive structure for people to go over would be if it was an assured seat because, again, why would you go over if you were the profile in my mind of a person that runs for Senator?”

At multiple points prior to their removal, Aaron recommended to Election Liaisons that rather than offering the one-term seats in separate races, they instead be given to the losers of the two-term race. But Senate had ruled unanimously to run two separate races, and Cunningham-Rodriguez expressed that it would create an unfair hierarchy between one-term and two-term Senators. Said Becker, “The Election Czar’s job is not to set election policy, it is to conduct the election,” noting that the format of an election is only ever changed with unanimous Senate approval. Aaron’s insistence on changing the format, and their final alleged decision to do so, crossed a line.

Furthermore, simultaneous to sending their initial Monday email, Aaron contacted two of the two-term Senate candidates via text and encouraged them to switch races to the one-term race. Aaron stated that they were doing so purely in a personal capacity as their friend rather than a professional one, and remarked that, based on their understanding of the candidates’ mental health, they did not believe either of them could handle the stress of a competitive race.

Aaron informed the Quest that they had acted in good faith, only intending to help two personal friends succeed in the election. They also cited what they characterized as poor performance in prior elections by both candidates as their reason for contacting them. “We do have the data on how these specific candidates get voted for within the student body and based on those specific candidates, they do not do so hot,” they said. “And therefore I think against the other people, there’s a good chance based on the fact that they hadn’t won in the past that they don’t win again.”

“You cannot have an opinion as an Election Czar.”

— Student Body Vice President Margot Becker

In correspondence with Election Liaisons on Sunday evening, Aaron remarked, “Either way, we both know that [the two Senate candidates contacted the next day] will be your one-term Senators based on how the school typically votes.” Aaron later informed the Quest, “I said that they would probably change over because I felt that they would be able to see the light.”

“I was trying to act in the best interest of the student body,” they said.

Aaron volunteered to the Quest that the two candidates they encouraged to move to the one-semester race “are going closer to the bottom of the ballot, even though they’re my personal friends.” Aaron maintained that this fact had nothing to do with their decision to encourage them to switch races.

One of the candidates contacted by Aaron spoke to the Quest, stating that they were “shocked” when they saw the text. “Aaron and I are not close — we’re more acquaintances than anything else. So I thought it was very bizarre that they would reach out to me and tell me to do this,” adding, “I ran in a competitive election last year, and that was fine. Aaron was part of that race too — they should know that.”

Although the Election Liaisons never explicitly told Aaron that they couldn’t privately contact candidates and encourage them to alter their campaigns, they found the texts highly concerning. Said Becker, “You cannot, cannot, cannot distribute information to one candidate that you do not distribute to another. That is something we have called Election Czars in the past and it is something we will always call Election Czars on.”

Becker also remarked, “You cannot have an opinion as an Election Czar.”

Both texted candidates turned down Aaron’s suggestion.

Upon becoming aware of these texts, Senate became concerned that Aaron had singled out the two candidates they did on the basis of their race, as they were the only white candidates in the race. Cunningham-Rodriguez observed that it was unfair to every candidate — white or non-white — to claim that students would only vote on the basis of race, and emphasized that it discounted the effort and care involved in campaigning for Senate. “I don’t want our POC candidates to feel like they won for any reason other than that they had the best platform,” said Cunningham-Rodriguez, adding that the idea that candidates of color were somehow guaranteed to defeat their white peers was incongruous with Senate’s beliefs.

Becker added that telling two white candidates to run in a race that will be capped is effectively ensuring that those two white candidates you don’t think would otherwise win will be guaranteed seats, remarking, “That is beyond not okay.”

Aaron denied that they’d singled out the two candidates on the bases of race and remarked, “I would say the fact that the student body typically does not vote for white students is overall a very positive thing based on the fact that students of color are, for a majority, working class students. Based on that, I kind of read them as representing my interests.”

According to Becker, the Election Liaisons first became concerned about Aaron’s ability to run the election on November 6, when they emailed the Election Liaisons asking if they (as an Election Czar) were allowed to run in the Senate election, acknowledging that it was probably a conflict of interest to run in an election they were also facilitating. The Liaisons replied that while they appreciated Aaron’s interest in Senate, they had decided it would in fact constitute a conflict of interest. Aaron replied by stating that they’d asked knowing that the answer would probably be no.

Although this struck Becker as a misunderstanding — and potential denial — of the responsibilities of the job, Aaron had never been explicitly told they could not run in the election, and Becker stated that she was happy to clarify the matter.

In an interview with the Quest, Aaron said that they could “absolutely” see a conflict of interest, but claimed that if the Liaisons had allowed them to run, Carnathan, their Co-Czar, would have taken over the Senate election to prevent those issues. When asked if they consulted Carnathan about this prior to asking to run, Aaron said, “Yes. I communicated with him over text … he just said, ‘Okay. That’s fine.’” However, in an email to the Quest, Carnathan stated, “I had no clue that they were trying to run at all until much later after the fact.” Aaron stated that they wanted to run in the one term election after they learned of it because they felt they had a better chance of winning that race than the standard, two-term Senate race.

The next concerns arose from a series of emails exchanged between Aaron and the Liaisons a week later on Sunday, November 15. Aaron initially reached out to the Liaisons to inform them that they had been unable to book the Student Union (SU) for Elections Assembly due to a requirement that it be booked five days in advance that they had not been informed of.

During this exchange, Aaron said they were frustrated with a lack of support from the Liaisons and a lack of communication about the responsibilities of the job. Aaron expressed that from the beginning, there had not been a clear delineation of the relationship between Election Czar and Election Liaisons, and remarked that they had been nothing but proactive during the election cycle. In reply, the Liaisons apologized for not supporting Aaron enough, as well as for not replying to an email they had sent before the weekend in a timely manner. They offered to provide more guidance and encouraged Aaron to ask for help if they needed it, but also encouraged them to be more proactive in seeking out their assistance.

Cunningham-Rodriguez stated that what she viewed as a passive-aggressive tone from Aaron’s communications impaired their working relationship with Senate. On the other hand, Aaron stated of the exchange, “I felt like the response was fairly passive aggressive, and I felt made to be incompetent and to feel bad for asking for help.”

In their interview with the Quest, Aaron spoke at length about their frustrations with Senate’s involvement (or lack thereof) with the election planning process. “I felt like throughout the project, the only time I would get told any form of information whatsoever is if I directly asked. Which is okay if they clearly at the beginning say, ‘hey, this is going to be a pretty self-run thing,’ … but that wasn’t really the sense I got from the way that other things were handled,” Aaron said, citing an instance where they proposed changing the method by which votes were tabulated — a suggested change to the election format that Senate did not accept.

Student Body President Safi Zenger wrote in an email to the Quest that she sent Aaron and Carnathan an updated election timeline which also included a document that explained how to tabulate votes. Aaron confirmed this and noted that they also received a document that overviewed elections in more depth after the publication of an initial election announcement in SB Info which did not include Quest editor positions.

“The entire structure of this election […] was kind of based on my memory of how past elections were run, which was kind of hazy because, again, I wasn’t really told what to do.”

— Former Election Czar Aaron G.

Wrote Zenger, “I asked the elections liaisons to send it to Aaron and Ares. After the quest positions were left out of the announcement, however, I then sent the doc as a reminder.”

Aaron referred to what they received as “a pretty vague document which basically told me what I knew from observational experience,” and also called it, “a set of really oblique rules that only half made sense, that were very much written as policy that was kind of intentionally made to be kind of obscure and abstract.” The documentation in question, which was obtained by the Quest, lays out an election timeline, how candidates enter an election, how to run election assembly, and other Czar responsibilities. It specifically notes when Election Czars should begin election promotion and lists all elected positions.

Aaron wrote in an email to the Quest, “Only after complaining about the lack of management when I ran into the SU problem on Sunday was I told (in a vague and passive aggressive way) that the issue of not having the people in the one term seat was my problem and informed that the elections were to be a primarily self directed project.”

“I was proactive in the ways that I was told to be proactive, but […] the hard lines of the job weren’t really described to me,” said Aaron. They compared the lack of support to a manager who expected employees to do their job without actually informing them what that job is.

Speaking to the Quest, Becker pushed back upon Aaron’s language referring to Election Czars as their “managers,” stating, “That’s not how this relationship works. That was never a relationship he was told of directly.”

Both Becker and Cunningham-Rodriguez emphasized that Election Czar has always been a self-directed position, in order to avoid the conflict of interest that would arise from Senate running their own elections. “We need to make sure that our elections are free and fair, and we need to do this by telling our Election Czars how to conduct the election and then letting them conduct it,” She said, adding, “In every election I can recall — and this is my third election serving on Senate — the way this has worked has basically been one big meeting at the beginning and then emails from there.”

Cunningham-Rodriguez shared the same sentiment. She remarked that, having served as Election Czar her freshman year at Reed, she had a preconceived notion of what an Election Czar would do and how they should interact with Senate that Aaron did not seem to share, remarking that Aaron “seemed to need more direction.” However, she also claimed that she felt the expectations of the job had been clearly communicated and that, “Aaron was not voicing their questions and concerns, so it was hard for us to dissuade them.”

Cunningham-Rodriguez noted that she thought based on Aaron’s job interview, where they had a lot of ideas about how to run the election, that they expected more independence. (One such idea pitched during Aaron’s interview was to establish an elections Instagram; Aaron never followed through on this promise, and Senate specifically identified their failure to do so as a fireable offense. In their interview with the Quest, Aaron referred to this Instagram as a “vague, half-baked idea.”).

One person who did feel like the Liaisons were giving Aaron enough support: Ares Carnathan, their co-Election Czar. In communications which took place Monday evening, mere hours after the text messages to the two candidates, Carnathan reached out to the Election Liaisons with concerns.

Carnathan expressed that Aaron spoke of Senate in a passive-aggressive way that seemed unwarranted. Carnathan did not agree with — and was confused by — Aaron’s negative assessment of the working environment fostered by Senate, because he felt like the Czars had been receiving enough support from Senate. He also was uncomfortable with comments Aaron had made about the two candidates they’d texted. Furthermore, Carnathan expressed that Aaron was discouraging him from doing his job by leaving him out of election business and telling him not to make election advertisements. Ultimately, Carnathan was concerned by what he perceived as apathy about the job and animosity towards Senate from Aaron and said that, while he would be willing to continue working with Aaron, it would be an uncomfortable and unproductive working environment.

Aaron stated, “At no point were we explicitly told to do advertising, and Ares basically asked me, ‘Hey, should I start doing advertising?’ And I was like, I mean, if you want to, I think it would be helpful, however based on the fact that we haven’t been told [to do advertising], I’m not sure whether or not we’re supposed to at this point.”

Aaron also remarked that, “The entire structure of this election — and I made this very clear to my liaisons — was kind of based on my memory of how past elections were run, which was kind of hazy because, again, I wasn’t really told what to do.” This basis for the election led them not to prioritize advertising, as they noted, “I hadn’t seen advertising in the past. I assumed that it was a low priority based on the fact of that.”

In an email to the Quest, Aaron said that they explicitly told Carnathan to do advertising on Tuesday, November 15, the day they were fired, and three days before the election was initially scheduled to begin.

“I did the job dutifully to the extent to which I could. When a problem arose I attempted to fix it as quickly and as well as I could, but as this was a job that I was doing as a favor for a friend more so than anything else, I was not super invested.”

— Former Election Czar Aaron G.

Aaron said that they and Carnathan “basically figured out on the fly who was doing what,” and that, “I was put in the position where I basically did 80% of the work on the project.”

In an email to the Quest, Carnathan said that, prior to their joint application to the position of Election Czar, Aaron told him “essentially that they [Aaron] would be doing all the work and the only things I would be in charge of were promotional materials. This was reflected in how it ended up except for the fact that they were very apathetic about me making any promotional materials. I would ask if I should make something, and the only response I would get would be along the lines of, ‘if you want to.’”

When asked how invested they were in their job, Aaron replied that they were “not super invested.” They said that they applied to the job because “My friend Jefferson told me that no one had applied to it and was very concerned about that fact, and because of that he asked me, ‘Hey, I think you could do this. Do you want to be able to do this?” Aaron elaborated, “I did the job dutifully to the extent to which I could. When a problem arose I attempted to fix it as quickly and as well as I could, but […] this was a job that I was doing as a favor for a friend more so than anything else.”

In an email to the Quest, App Com Chair Jefferson Ratcliffe wrote: “Aaron approached me saying he was interested in being an election czar and I encouraged him to apply. Any time a student expresses interest in a position I ask them to apply to help promote the job.”

All this said, Cunningham-Rodriguez found Aaron’s frustration understandable, and expressed that it wasn’t something Senate wanted to shy away from. “I’m not gonna say that we don’t fuck up sometimes.” Both Cunningham-Rodriguez and Becker stated that, upon learning of Aaron’s frustration, they felt guilty for what they perceived as a failure to properly support one of their employees. Said Becker, “When Aaron posed complaints about the work environment, we felt like we had not done our best to support an individual who wanted to do the best in their job despite some problems.” Becker also remarked that they initially intended to treat the matter as “an employee who had a complaint about their employer.” Both recognized how confusing it can be to work for Senate, and Kiana also pointed out that this had been an unusually confusing election cycle, featuring a canceled special election in October and a one-off election of one-semester Senators.

When the Election Liaisons learned of Aaron’s inappropriate emails and texts to Senate candidates, they began to have a serious discussion on how best to resolve the matter — but only when Ares reached out did the full gravity of the situation dawn on them. Then, following a discussion between themselves and another member of Senate, they began the process of terminating Aaron’s employment as Election Czar.

“We did this for the health of our Candidates,” said Cunningham-Rodriguez, adding, “This process is and always has been a last resort.”

Becker remarked that Election Czar is one of the most important positions hired by Senate and stated, “This has never happened before.”

Both Election Czars expressed sorrow over what happened and wished Aaron the best.

Aaron, for their part, said, “I think that this is an equal blame scenario,” and remarked that as someone from a working-class background, they’re still learning how to navigate elite spaces. In the wake of their removal from the Election they ask the community, “Don’t judge me based on a situation where the extent to which I had control on the project was not made clear to me.”

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Stories


We would love your thoughts, please comment!x
%d bloggers like this: