Stuyvesant Student Union President Disqualified for “put[ting] down” opponent

June 23rd, 2013

Stuyvesant, a top high school in New York, apparently has a rule in place that prevents candidates from putting down their opponents. Apparently, the winner of this year’s election did just that, and his win was nullified.

While not Bush v. Gore, the fight over the election results has become a minor obsession in the final days of the school year at Stuyvesant. The Board of Elections, which is made up of 19 students and is overseen by a faculty member, gave Mr. Cahn three strikes that led to his disqualification. The first was for leaving campaign material inside the Student Union room. The second was for putting up more than three posters on a single bulletin board.

The third strike, which the board announced alongside the disqualification, is among the things that distinguish the student elections from the current race to fill the mayor’s office, which is just a few blocks away. In an attempt to rally the support of junior and senior caucus candidates, Mr. Cahn wrote to them, saying that his opponent, Edward Zilberbrand, “accomplished very little” during his time in student government. That broke the rule that candidates “shall not put down any other candidates.”

What some students have been quick to write off as a closed case has evolved into a full-scale mission by Mr. Cahn to overturn the ruling.

I wonder if Stuyvesant, a public school, has any First Amendment problems here? The student is being punished for his speech that very well may have been accurate (let’s assume the opponent did in fact do very little in student government). It could hardly be seen as disruptive. Is “put[ting] down” unconstitutionally vague?