Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer
After this year’s tumultuous Student Government Board election, which left many Pitt students both confused and outraged, the board decided to dedicate a task force to prevent an equally turbulent election in the future.
SGB created an Election Procedures Review task force on March 9 to review the events leading up to election day, gather feedback on SGB elections and judicial codes and procedures and “reinforce public trust in SGB elections procedures by increasing public access to information,” according to the task force charter.
The task force members include Eric Macadangdang, current SGB president; Ben King, SGB vice president and chief of finance; board member Katie Richmond; Danielle Obisie-Orlu, Resident Student Association president; Darren Campuzano, WPTS Radio station manager; Madelynn Lederer from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and Grace O’Malley from the Swanson School of Engineering.
The events of election week included Tyler Viljaste, presidential candidate and current SGB vice president and chief of cabinet, filing an infraction against opposing presidential candidate Joe Landsittel regarding the distribution of shot glasses to primarily underage students. Landsittel’s Vision slate was disqualified after a series of all-night hearings, and many students took to social media platforms such as Instagram and Reddit to harass Viljaste and his Brightside slate.
Harshitha Ramanan, the third presidential candidate and an independent, won the election by a two-to-one margin over Viljaste. She announced Viljaste and Landsittel as her co-chiefs of staff a few weeks later.
King said the task force aims to see how and why the events leading up to the election occurred and how to prevent them in the future.
“That’s the fundamental goal is to find, is to see how this happened,” King said. “I think we’re all, everyone has a pretty good idea on why it was a problem, and to find out ways to make it not happen again.”
Macadangdang said he knew SGB “needed to do something” because of the spread of misinformation and harassment targeted at Viljaste. He also said a disqualification hasn’t happened in recent SGB history, which also warrants further investigation.
According to King and Macadangdang, the end product of the task force is a report with recommendations and revisions to the elections and judicial processes. The task force would present the report to the elections committee and the board for them to vote, and the recommendations would only go into effect if agreed on by both groups.
To collect student feedback and recommendations, the task force made a student public comment form, which closed last Tuesday with 89 responses. The task force also met with the Vision slate, Viljaste and the elections and judicial committee chairs to review election day events and hear their specific recommendations. Macadangdang said the task force plans to “have something finalized” by the end of the next week.
According to King and Macadangdang, at the beginning of the student-feedback collection period, many students voiced their concerns about the timeline of events. King said the disqualification posed a “logistical problem” for students planning to vote for Vision, because they did not have enough time to research other candidates on the ballot. Macadangdang said timing concerns also related to the hearings being held in the middle of the night, which is “not a very opportune time to work at your best.”
Macadangdang added that while there are infractions that students commonly file, this year, “The most significant sanction that a committee could impose has been done,” and SGB was not as prepared as it should have been. Macadangdang said this is an opportunity to “clean up” board procedures in case something similar happens in the future.
“We take that as something that’s already occurred, that’s something in the past, but how can we look at that as sort of a lesson learned to clean up our procedures again,” Macadangdang said. “Should a situation, hopefully never again that happens but where there’s an infraction where that is a serious consideration, how can we do it in a timely, equitable and transparent fashion.”
Landsittel and his slate met with the task force to bring up various issues and recommendations. He said the elections code should have “due process” — when a hearing is based on only the violation originally reported — so “candidates can know what they are getting into when entering these hearings.”
Landsittel and his slate were found guilty for not following their shot glass distribution plan, even though Viljaste’s initial infraction stated that Vision broke a section of the Pitt Student Unions’ Policies and Procedures Handbook. He said both the elections and judicial committee hearings “had very little to do with their original infraction,” which left his slate unprepared in both hearings.
Landsittel also said SGB should expand its list of infraction punishments to better reflect infraction types. According to Landsittel, the elections committee decided to disqualify the slate “because that was the only [consequence] that they could really do that would have a tangible effect,” because of the hearing’s proximity to election day and the election being online.
Landsittel also wants to restructure judicial hearings so the appealing party could defend themselves and address concerns after the complainant’s and the elections committee’s allotted times to speak, which currently occur after the appealing party’s allotted time.
When meeting with the task force, Viljaste suggested that infractions should be reported anonymously and that the elections committee should “investigate themselves.” Viljaste said this way “individual candidates are removed from the process altogether.”
“The elections committee should be more proactive and then that way, the individual candidates are removed from the process altogether, because I mean, in the end, if you break the elections code, you break the elections code,” Viljaste said. “It shouldn’t matter who files the complaint, the punishment should be the same regardless.”
He also said by having non-SGB people on the task force, he hopes the elections code can become more “accessible and digestible” and “bridge the gap” between Pitt’s student body and the board.
Macadangdang said election week’s events were both an “internal” and “external” issue, due to SGB’s “internal procedures” and the ability of Pitt’s entire undergraduate student body to vote. Macadangdang said having task force members with diverse backgrounds allows Pitt’s student body to have representation within the task force.
“We thought it would be good to have pretty strong representation of students who were able to provide a reasoned approach to overseeing all the evidence, processing it and having strong, respectful deliberations with one another,” Macadagndang said.
According to Macadangdang, SGB reached out to different student organization leaders and recommended students, and utilized its student leader database to recruit task force members.
Macadangdang said SGB represents Pitt’s student body, and students should reach out to SGB if they do not feel represented.
“We are here, literally as our mission states, to represent and advocate on your behalf, and if students are feeling like we’re not accomplishing that mission, they need to really reach out to us,” Macadangdang said. “We’re doing our best with this task force and holding our public meetings every week and having pretty consistent channels open for students to reach out to us, our Fix it Pitt!, our virtual office hours.”
He said he encourages students to continue to provide feedback, especially as the new board and president transition into their roles.
“We consistently always welcome feedback, ideas and concerns, and I encourage students to continue to do that as we close out on this semester, and especially as we enter into the next year as we have a new board and a new president who are going to be excited to get work done,” Macadangdang said.