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Credit: Kasra Koushan

Following a nine-hour hearing, the Nominations and Elections Committee cleared two candidates of all charges relating to alleged campaign violations and were elected to their respective posts.

The NEC charged Wharton freshmen Sarah Zhou and Sameer Khan with violating Penn's Fair Practices Code on Wednesday. After being cleared, the two were declared the winners of their respective races. Zhou will serve as the Vice President of Finance for Class Board 2022 and Khan will serve as the Wharton Chair. 

NEC Grievance Officer and College junior Lucas Weiner, also a Daily Pennsylvanian staffer, charged the two candidates with looking at a voter's ballot and with persuading students to vote a certain way during an election. Both candidates faced identical charges.

Zhou and Khan campaigned together for Class Board 2022. Chair of the NEC and College senior Stephen Imburgia, former Daily Pennsylvanian staffer, said most of the trial evidence against the two were the same.

The trial was slated to take place in Huntsman Hall with results announced by 5 p.m. Deliberations, however, lasted longer than expected, and the NEC moved to the Penn Women's Center at around 6 p.m. to continue its discussion for another hour.  

In 2016, the NEC held a a Fair Practice Code hearing for candidates running for Class Board President. While that lasted about seven hours, today’s trial lasted nine hours. 

“I’m really, really proud of how professional the NEC was throughout our deliberations process,” Imburgia said. “I think that it was really important to stress that the people that we are considering are our peers and that at the end of the day, we’re all Penn students."

The trial included witnesses for the prosecution and the defense, and it largely centered on a video recorded by NEC member and Wharton freshman Connor Gibson. The footage shows Zhou and Khan knocking on a freshman's dorm door. The two told the room resident that they were running together and Khan instructed the resident on how to vote for Zhou.

The video depicts this interaction and continues, showing Zhou crossing the hall to be on the other side of the laptop while the student votes. The prosecution argued that Khan, acting as a surrogate for Zhou, illegally looked at the voter’s ballot. 

Witnesses said during the trial that, after recording the video, Gibson spoke with the resident of that room and College freshman Anthony Rovito — both of whom lived on that same hall — and allegedly asked them if the candidates had looked at their ballots while voting. Both students said yes. 

Rovito also said that when Zhou and Khan knocked on his door, they gave him a cookie, asked him to vote, and set up the ballot for him. 

Weiner argued that Zhou used the cookie to persuade Rovito to vote for her, a move which is not allowed under the FPC. He also noted that if either candidate looked at the ballot, it would be an automatic disqualification under FPC guidelines.

Six witnesses spoke on Zhou's behalf, including Engineering and College senior and Senior Class President Aren Raisinghani, as well as Engineering and Wharton junior and Junior Class President Karim El Sewedy. In her defense statement, Zhou said getting to know voters was part of her campaign. 

For the NEC, the trial raised questions of how the group handles violations. Typically, members are asked to document when they see these violations, but the defense argued that Gibson's act of filming an individual without their knowledge violates Pennsylvania wiretap law. Imburgia said the group plans to look more into the issue. 

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated Karim El Sewedy and Aren Raisinghani were both in the College, when in fact Sewedy is in Engineering and Wharton, and Raisinghani is in Engineering and the College. The DP regrets the error.

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