SGB election sees decrease in voter turnout

SGB election sees decrease in voter turnout

By Danielle Fox / Staff Writer

This year’s Student Government Board election proved that fewer candidates and less campaigning make for a dramatically lower voter turnout.

Only 10 students competed for the eight seats on the Board. President-elect Mike Nites ran uncontested, receiving 1,965 votes. Only 2,520 students — 13.7 percent of Pitt’s non-College of General Studies undergraduates — voted in Thursday’s election. The election saw a decrease of about 54 percent in voter turnout, down from last year’s turnout of about 30 percent.

Aaron Gish, Elections Committee chairman, said before the election that rates of voter participation had been on the rise over the past few years. After the results were announced, he blamed fewer candidates and a less dramatic election day for yesterday’s low voter turnout.

“I don’t think there is a question that fewer candidates are going to generate less votes,” Gish said. “Almost every single aspect of the election was more dramatic last year.”

Gish said last year’s election was “hard fought,” with multiple campaign infractions and tensions that piqued student interest. These factors, he said, attracted more voters.

“Generally after a really dramatic year with a lot of high tensions, fewer candidates will run [in the next election],” Gish said.

Students voted online and at campus polling stations in Market Central and Litchfield Towers  from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Each non-College of General Studies undergraduate student could cast votes for up to five Board members and one president as well as vote “yes” or “no” on three proposals, termed “referenda,” to alter the SGB Constitution. 

The majority of students who voted were in favor of all three of these referenda. One of these changed the wording and format of some portions of the constitution. Another increased the minimum GPA requirement for the Board president and members from 2.5 to 2.75. The ballot also included a referendum that will reduce the number of Board candidates for whom each student can vote from five to three.

SGB is responsible for allocating the $2.3 million Student Activities Fund to student organizations. Every non-College of General Studies undergraduate student pays $80 into the fund each semester.

The 2014 Board members, listed in the order of highest number of votes received, are Ellie Tsatsos, Andrew Abboud, Brandon Benjamin, Graeme Meyer, Sara Klein, Mona Kazour, Jake Radziwon and Abby Zurschmit.

Lauren Barney and Ron Reha were not elected to the Board.

“It was hard fought, and I’m glad that my slate mates got on,” Reha said. “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing, I guess.”

Although Barney was on the ballot, she did not actively campaign.

Barney said she believed the Elections Code was broken when Gish extended the deadline for candidate applications after the original deadline had passed.

“I was in silence in the campaign,” she said, adding that she chose to focus her efforts on working on other SGB-related projects instead.

Although Barney is not a member of the Board, she has been working with Nites to eliminate Saturday finals, an initiative she campaigned on when she unsuccessfully ran for the 2013 Board.

Barney said she purposely left her name on the ballot, and would have accepted the position if elected.

“I worked really hard to get on the ballot, and I showed initiative,” she said. “I thought I deserved to be on the ballot just as much as anyone else.”

Because Tsatsos, Abboud and Benjamin were the three candidates who received the largest shares of total votes, they will be appointed as representatives to the University Senate Council.

As the Board member candidate who received the most votes, Tsatsos will receive the title of president pro-tempore. This means that she will assume the office of SGB president in the event that Nites is no longer able or willing to fulfill his responsibilities. 

Tsatsos said she plans to “start learning about how the whole process works,” so she can smoothly transition onto the Board. 

“It’s bittersweet. I’m really excited about the people who won, but I’m also really sad about the one [slate member] who lost,” she said. 

Tsatsos added that she is excited to serve as a representative to the University Senate.

“I like to be part of a group, but also have that extra say in how things go,” she said.

Abboud, who ran with Kazour and Zurschmit on the Three Rivers slate, said he was happy his entire slate got on Board.

“We’ve all put a lot of foundational work in already,” he said. “I think it’s great that we all got on and now we can work together to accomplish these goals together.”

Benjamin said he was “thrilled” that he and Klein were both elected.

“If it had been me and not her, it would have been bittersweet,” Benjamin said. “She’s one of my closest friends.”

The SGB Elections Committee advertised the election in campus publications and through different events. Gish said that there were events hosted in Market Central and the Perch. WPTS Radio and the Elections Committee also held a debate between candidates on Nov. 12 in Nordy’s Place.

While SGB held these events to promote the election on campus, Maddie Bank, a sophomore accounting major, said she didn’t follow the SGB campaigns and did not vote.

“If you live off campus, it’s hard to be informed,” Bank said.

Gish said he worked to advertise the election, but he added that the most effective way to elicit student interest is for the candidates to address students themselves.

“By advocating for themselves, they also increase awareness for the election,” he said.

The candidates spent election day attempting to raise awareness and persuade students to vote by passing out flyers and small gifts such as bags of popcorn, lollipops and beverage koozies.

Candidates also used social media to reach out to voters. They sent out tweets and posted Facebook statuses reminding students when and where to vote.

The members of Pitt Gold slate took it a step further than most on Facebook to garner attention — particularly Meyer.

“I changed my birthday to today on Facebook so everyone is messaging me telling me, ‘happy birthday,’ and I say, ‘Oh, just kidding, but by the way, don’t forget to vote today,” Meyer said.

Reha and Tsatsos, fellow candidates from the Pitt Gold slate, used the same tactic.

Kazour, a candidate from Three Rivers slate, said she asked students if they knew what SGB was, and then explained where to find the candidates’ initiatives and how to vote.

“We [weren’t] trying to force it down their throats,” Kazour said. “We [were] just trying to make them more informed.”

While candidates maintained a high profile on campus Thursday, the stakes were lower than in previous years. 

“I’d say [election day] is a lot more relaxed compared to last year, at least for me,” Nites said prior to the election.

Meyer said he thinks candidates would have had more active campaigns if there had been more competition. 

“Honestly, we have all worked hard, but there is no sense in lying,” Meyer said “There was less campaigning [than last year].”

Radziwon said he did not participate in the paper campaign and did not think it made an impact on his campaign.

“I had a lot of things going on, and doing the paper campaign wasn’t my top priority,” Radziwon said.

Although competition was milder than last year, Meyer said the election was still “anybody’s game.”

“I am nervous,” he said before the results were read. “I think you would be a fool right now to not be nervous.”

During the election for the 2013 Student Government Board, slates openly paired up with other slates of three candidates in order to create groups of six. This would allow students to vote for a cohesive group of six candidates on election day.

Slates Steel and Stone and slates Fifth and Forbes collaborated on campaign efforts as two separate megaslates. 

This year, candidates were not allowed to form megaslates or officially publicize connections with one another during election season.

“We haven’t seen any behind-the-scenes connections,” Gish said. “As far as I know, this was one of the cleanest elections in SGB history.”

Nites said that his self-declared role as “dissenter” on this year’s Board helped him learn that next year’s Board should work together on decisions as a “cohesive whole.” 

“We weren’t necessarily united as a Board, and I want to make sure we are next year,” he said.

Nites plans to meet with the current Board to discuss “the good, the bad [and] the ugly” after their year in office and ask for any suggestions and ideas for improvement.

“Amidst all the issues [the current Board] had, we definitely accomplished a lot,” he said.

Gordon Louderback, the current Board president, said he wishes Nites well in his upcoming term.

“I’m going to do everything I can to give him all the information he needs to do well,” Louderback said. 

Last night’s victors will begin their terms in January, and Nites said he is excited for what is to come.

“I think we’re going to have a great time next year and hopefully be the most successful Board that SGB has seen in a while,” Nites said.

Editor’s note: Parthena Moisiadis contributed to this report.