Juniors Josh Berman and Alejandro Vogel were elected Class of 2022 Class Council president and vice president, respectively, in an election that saw the Duke Student Government Judiciary strip votes from their opponents for violating election rules.
Former DSG Attorney General John Markis, a junior and a senior news reporter for The Chronicle, announced in a May 9 email to the candidates and The Chronicle that Berman initially defeated junior Joanne Kim 297 to 293 votes, and Vogel bested junior Sam Lamba 278 to 215 votes. But a three-justice panel of the Judiciary docked Kim and Lamba 1,772 votes each for violating rules about campaign correspondence—leaving them both with no votes—and the full Judiciary upheld the decision.
“It’s comforting to know that we won the election before their votes were docked,” Berman and Vogel wrote in a joint statement to The Chronicle. “We worked hard on our campaign, and are so thankful to the many people who helped turn this dream into a reality.”
They wrote that they are excited to implement their ideas and will emphasize mental health awareness over the next year.
The election was held in April, but the results were delayed while the petitions in the case were resolved.
Berman and Vogel first filed a petition after Lynee Belton, Trinity ‘18 and coordinator for sophomore class programming, sent an email to the Class of 2022 on behalf of Kim and Lamba.
The email encouraged then-sophomores to learn more about the candidates on social media and to “reach out to us for further assistance” if they encountered any difficulties.
According to the ruling of the three-justice panel, a copy of which Markis provided to The Chronicle, Kim contacted Markis beforehand and asked if it was okay to send a neutral campaign email. He replied, “Yes. Include either all candidates or none.”
But despite Markis’ advice, the email was signed by Kim and Lamba—in their roles as Class of 2022 Class Council vice president and international representative, respectively—and did not mention Berman or Vogel, according to the ruling. The ruling states that Belton sent approximately 30 emails to the sophomore class email list during the 2019-20 academic year, and that no others were signed by individual members of the Class Council.
Belton wrote in an email to The Chronicle that she was “under the impression that the email was sent to encourage students to vote.” She added that Kim and Lamba asked her to send the email “given we aren’t on campus and they can not advertise like they normally can.”
The Judiciary found that that the email violated §5 Clauses 3 and 5 of DSG’s 2020 election statute: that candidates and their teams may not use listservs to send messages other than than “general election reminders which regard all candidates equally,” and that they can’t use “a student organization’s official email account or Duke University entity” to send messages to voters.
The panel docked Kim and Lamba 1,772 votes each, one for each member of the Class of 2022 except them, because the statute states that candidates should lose one vote for each individual who was unlawfully contacted.
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In a joint email to The Chronicle, Kim and Lamba wrote that they “never foresaw the email being perceived as campaign material.”
“We recognized that not all students have the technological means to exercise their right to vote and we also wanted to provide support, where possible, as current members of the Sophomore Class Council,” they wrote. “The only goal of the email was to encourage our peers to take part in the democratic process, and we hope that during these unprecedented times, that is what it did.”
Kim and Lamba appealed the panel’s decision to the full Judiciary. They argued that the three-justice panel “did not hold an in-person hearing, did not consider all of the evidence in making their ruling, ignored the precedent set by Scharff v. Markis (2020), and relied on unclear governing documents,” according to the full Judiciary’s ruling in the case, a copy of which Markis provided to The Chronicle. They also believed that they were acting in accordance with the Sophomore Class Constitution when they sent the email.
The Judiciary rejected all of these claims and upheld the panel’s decision, according to its ruling.
“The reason for our appeal was not to challenge the character of any individual but rather to challenge the process and note some of the factual inaccuracies made in the original ruling document,” Kim and Lamba wrote in their email to The Chronicle. “We believe that the Court should provide the facts as they are, and that all evidence should be considered fairly and properly attributed.”
Kim v. Berman (2020)
Kim also filed a petition inquiring whether Berman had made “false or unsubstantiated” comments about her, according to Markis’ ruling on the petition, a copy of which he provided to The Chronicle. Markis found that Berman had not made false or unsubstantiated comments and dismissed the petition.
"Berman used only courteous and respectful language to describe Kim or her campaign,” Markis wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “During every interaction, he impressed me with his candor, cordiality, and sense of humor, and I know that Berman will serve the class of 2022 with exceptional leadership."
The complaint came after Berman alleged to Markis in a phone conversation that Kim may have used Belton to issue campaign correspondence, according to Markis’ ruling. Markis then asked Kim in a text to confirm that Belton had chosen to send the email signed by Kim and Lamba.
“[J]ust to confirm, [Belton] sent out the email of her own volition, right? and you didn’t hack her account or attempt or coerce her?” Markis wrote in the text, according to his ruling.
The ruling states that claims about coercion and hacking would fall under the purview of election rules banning candidates from making false or unsubstantiated comments, but that Berman never stated that Kim had tried to do either.
Kim, Lamba and Berman stressed to The Chronicle that there was no animosity between the involved parties.
“A conversation with all parties cleared up the misunderstandings derived from the texts we exchanged with John Markis,” Kim and Lamba wrote in their email to The Chronicle. “We now know that [Berman] and [Vogel] did not make any false claims against us and we would also like to congratulate them for their well-deserved victory.”
Berman wrote in an email that he and Vogel had spoken to Kim and Lamba and there were “no hard feelings on either side.
“We want to emphasize that this case in no way speaks to [Kim] or [Lamba’s] character,” he wrote.
The Judiciary had previously ruled on five other cases related to Spring 2020 elections. In April, the Judiciary concluded an investigation into the elections and published a 21-page report accusing DSG of failing to understand and administer its own Constitution and by-laws.