Elections in SIA raise red flags

SIA re-elections will be held during the first week of classes with an in-person polling station in the Marshall Student Center.

The Students of India Association (SIA) is holding re-elections following accusations of unfair elections and violations of Student Government’s (SG) statutes.

An investigation request form (IRF) was filed by Nandini Argawal, a junior majoring in accounting and finance, after SIA organized closed-door elections of its president and vice president in late April.

Under the SG statute 801.4.1., any current USF students are allowed to run for office of A&S funded organizations. After the IRF was filed, the Senate voted to freeze SIA’s funds July 23 for a period of four weeks until a new executive board was elected.

During the election process, SIA advisor Adhokshaja Achar alerted the organization’s former president about infractions in the SG statutes for holding internal elections. However, it did not prevent the violations from happening.

“He was aware that elections needed to be fair and that we could receive a complaint about it,” Achar said. “It’s not about finding out how it’s unfair, but it’s about securing everyone’s money that comes from tuition.”

With the beginning of the new school year, Argawal decided to apply, but then found out that the elections were being restricted. She was previously involved with the organization as the events coordinator during the 2017-18 school year, however, due to increasing opposition, she left the position before the term was over.

“When I found out that the elections were being held internally, I felt like the board was personally attacking me,” Argawal said. “I wanted to raise this issue that was pertinent and felt unfair to me.”

As a way to unfreeze its funds, SIA held re-elections through google forms, where any student could vote by using their personal email address. After the results were announced, other violations were exposed.

According to SG Ethics Chair Noor Kantar, the google form used to conduct the re-elections allowed people to make several entries by using different email accounts. When SG started investigating the authenticity of the emails, it showed people’s emails being used without their formal consent.

In addition, current officers were not made aware of re-election.

Manushi Shah, SIA vice-president, was not informed about the ballot and highlighted the lack of communication between the president and the officers.

“I was completely unaware of any decisions regarding SIA’s re-elections,” Shah said. “The lack of communication is predominant and it’s unfair to all of those that wanted to run. The election process should not be this hard and it should be fair so that anyone can run, regardless of their previous involvement with SIA. With such a big decision that could shape SIA’s future, suggestions should have been taken from the e-board.”

After the second attempt of re-election being considered as invalid and fraudulent, SG decided to intervene. According to Kantar, SIA re-elections will be held during the first week of classes with an in-person polling station in the Marshall Student Center (MSC).

Besides checking IDs and using paper-ballots, SG staff will be present in the polling station overseeing the re-elections. 

According to Argawal, she wants to have a fair election that respects the rights of all students to run and vote for the next SIA’s officers.

“Whoever wins the election should know that their actions matter and if they are not ready for them to be held in the public’s eyes, then are they actually doing the right thing?” Argawal said. “SIA should be more accountable for their actions.