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Cornell+University

Dantes De MonteCristo / CC BY-SA 4.0

A Cornell student has been disqualified from a Student Assembly presidential race because of a meme created by one of his supporters.

Cornell junior Varun Devatha was disqualified from the student government race on March 28 after one of his supporters, Cornell senior Rachel Wells, posted a meme in support of him in the Facebook group, “Cornell: Any Person, Any Meme."

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The meme that was posted violated rules around student government campaigns by including logos of the School of Hotel Administration and the Hans Bethe House, reported The Cornell Daily Sun. As a result, the Student Assembly Elections Committee ruled by a vote of six to one to disqualify Devatha from the race. 

“This is the first time this has happened, and that’s why moving forward, the [Student Assembly] Elections Committee needs to redo the rules,” Travis Cabbell, Cornell senior and Student Assembly Elections Committee chair, told The Sun.

However, since this decision, a former member of the committee has said that the group made a biased choice and that the committee has been working to “rig” the election against Devatha. The Student Assembly Elections Committee has strongly denied this claim in statements to The Sun. 

At Penn, the Nominations and Elections Committee has disqualified candidates several times in the last 15 years. 

Most recently, in the 2016 elections, then-College freshman Connor Wright and then-Engineering freshman Jack Talley, both candidates for Class Board president, were disqualified after being declared guilty of violations of the Fair Practice Code. Both candidates were accused of either posting or having someone post on their behalf in the Class of 2020 Facebook page. 

In the 2014 elections, the NEC held a Fair Practices Hearing on then-College junior and presidential candidate Gabe Delaney and then-College sophomore and vice presidential candidate Julie Bittar’s campaigns. Delaney and Bittar were eventually disqualified for violating the Fair Practice’s Code campaign spending limits of $50 per candidate.

Four years earlier, in the 2010 election, the NEC announced three violation rulings. Two of these three students were ultimately disqualified for violations in the student government race, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported at the time

One College freshman, running for executive vice president, was removed from the race for attaching numerous posters to a kiosk. Another College freshman was disqualified due to a violation filed claiming the candidate had improperly helped voters use the voting system.

Cornell’s Student Assembly Elections Committee is now considering specifying election rules, as well as a result of this year’s dramatic election. “Amending the election rules is something we will definitely consider,” Jung Won Kim, Cornell senior and current president, told The Sun

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