UHR delays elections, rebukes Elections chair

Photo by Jonathan Jeffrey

Author’s note (3/2/19): This article has been edited from the print version to correct various typos, add hyperlinks and to more accurately portray UHR proceedings on Tuesday, following a corrective comment posted onto Reddit by undergraduate Rep. Nate Knauf. A GT login is required to see JacketPages bills linked to in this article.

On Tuesday, the Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR) rose to a degree of chaos rarely seen in its parliamentary procedures during the discussion of whether or not to recommend the removal of the Elections chair, Josephine Graves, for failure to perform multiple duties listed in Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) bylaws.

As Elections chair since fall 2018, Graves has headed the Elections Committee, which under the advisory of the Chief Justice oversees all aspects of the election of undergraduate representatives to UHR and the election of the President and Executive Vice President of USGA.

The resolution (19U040), which was passed 17-12-0 on Tuesday night, rebuked Graves for, among other items, failing “to add the positions of International Student Representative and Transfer Student Representative to the election application until the penultimate day when told of her mistake” and for not presenting a detailed elections schedule to UHR for approval before the election, “therefore causing a massive disruption in the current elections schedule.”

Junior Class Representative Akarsh Hemrajani, third-year CS, was the first to notice the missing positions as he browsed the SGA application form on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 28, and only realized the mistake because he had been involved in adding those positions to the UHR roster.

When he and other representatives contacted Graves about the missing positions, she added them to the Google Form but “refused to extend the application for these two positions,” in effect giving applicants “only one day to research and fill out the form,” the resolution reads.

Graves expressed that she was blind-sided by the fact that there were two more positions in the Elections Code, the document that describes election processes but which was her responsibility to update.

The first line of the responsibilities section of the transition document given to Graves in fall 2018 stated that the Elections chair should “annually review the Elections Code and all other documents pertaining to the elections and submit necessary amendments to the House for approval before the end of the Fall Semester” and the second line explicitly stated that “the chair shall calculate the apportionment of the House in accordance with these Bylaws and the Elections Code … [and] the Elections Committee shall inform the House of the positions available.”

The transition document contains a link to an outdated, Feb. 28, 2017 version of bylaws that did not include the new positions of International Students Representative and Transfer Students Representative, which were added to USGA bylaws in August 2018. Furthermore, the transition document had not been substantially updated since spring 2017.

However, both the outdated 2017 bylaws and the up-to-date August 2018 bylaws stipulate that “A detailed Elections Schedule, which shall specify the period of voting, campaigning, and all applicable deadlines, shall be submitted to the Undergraduate House of Representatives for approval before an election may begin.” 

In Tuesday’s resolution, UHR claims that Graves never submitted any such schedule. It appears no thorough review of the Elections Code that cross-referenced with the updated bylaws was taken: while the SGA Website states that the Election Code was last updated on Feb. 10, 2018, the document itself says last revised Dec. 30, 2016. 

This discrepancy would explain many of the inaccuracies in the Elections Code, which besides not including any information on the new positions, also continued to refer to the President of the Undergraduate Student Government as having the ability to appoint members to the committee.

The Technique reached out to the previous Elections chair, Reagan Johnson, who claimed she was not informed of changes to the reporting structure of the Elections Committee.

“The transition documents were as complete as I could make them with the knowledge that I had when I wrote them around this time last year,” Johnson said in an email statement. “Although I knew that UHR was considering adding a transfer student and international student rep, I was not made aware that UHR was considering moving the elections committee to the judicial branch. Since I was not aware of this change, I was not able to include this in the transition documents for the elections chair who came after me.”

However, the Feb. 28, 2017 bylaws that Johnson linked to in the transition document from 2018 stated that the Elections Committee had been “placed under the authority of the Chief Justice,” and not the executive branch. Johnson was not aware that the committee had already been moved to under UJC before the 2017–18 USGA session.

In February 2017, UHR voted to change USGA bylaws to move the Elections Committee from reporting to the USGA President to reporting to the Chief Justice, who heads the Undergraduate Judicial Cabinet (UJC), the judicial branch of USGA. While the transfer of  the Elections Committee to UJC occurred in 2017, not all of those changes were correctly reflected in the Elections Code, and were never changed afterward.

On Feb. 2, 2018, UHR unanimously voted in Bill 18U036 to use a version of the Election Code dated as last revised on November 6, 2015 — despite the fact that significant changes were made to the code in December 2016 and to the structure of the Elections Committee in 2017.

This week Tuesday in UHR, representatives — several of them having joined UHR just a few weeks ago — were split on whether focus should be on admonishing Graves for her individual negligence or on recognizing the combined negligence of everyone in SGA.

“I think if anything, what we have now learned from this is over the past couple of years, there has been a hodgepodge of problems with how SGA as a whole — because, remember we are an organization, as a whole — goes about elections,” said Walker Nance, fourth-year ISYE and a senior class representative.

Nance, who voted against the resolution, was one of multiple representatives who resisted blaming any specific person.

“We have put this under the microscope, and for two years running now, someone has dropped the ball, okay — sorry, let me rectify what I just said: we have dropped the ball,” Nance said. “Not one person has dropped the ball. We have dropped the ball.”

Other representatives, including the bill’s author, Nitin Jain, fourth-year AE and Aerospace representative, believed originally refusing to extend the deadline was an egregious decision that was insensitive to the international and transfer students in the student body and demonstrated Graves’ incompetence.

Graves briefly explained her side of the story during UHR proceedings on Tuesday. She emphasized that she had limited time to handle the spiraling situation during traveling last week Thursday and Friday.

“I actually was communicating with Akarsh while I was on the airplane, and I made the initial decision based on … some conversation I had with the previous elections chair about the issues they ran into last year, and Evan,” Graves said.

Graves added that she was not able to give a timely response about a request for an expanded conversation due to her late flight. “By the time I landed it was 1:30 a.m. here, and by the time all of this came through I didn’t get the chance to kind of like re-follow up on that, because elections had been suspended,” Graves said. “I was willing to have a conversation, but no one let me get that far.”

During the heated discussion of the night, Speaker of the House Darryl J. Terry II declined more than once to yield speaking time to USGA President Evan Gillon, or to allow representatives yield speaking time to Executive Vice President Ayo Aladesanmi and other members of the executive cabinet. After requesting to raise points of parliamentary order, Gillon and Aladesanmi were additionally removed from the chamber at Terry’s order. The decision to silence Gillon and Aladesanmi was successfully appealed later in the night by the UHR body, and both were brought back into the chamber after an extended period of pacing around outside.

As of Thursday, Gillon said he has not decided whether or not he would sign the resolution.

After the main proceedings concluded, Nate Knauf, third-year CS and College of Computing representative, called on Speaker Terry to release individual voting records of representatives.

According to USGA bylaws, voting records detailing the individual vote of every representative should be uploaded on a weekly basis, and Knauf has repeatedly called for Terry to enforce such provisions in the past.

Under pressure from some representatives, including Knauf, Terry chose to release the voting records for the Feb. 26 UHR meeting, which can be viewed online under “UHR Records.” These are the first voting records to be uploaded to the website at least since Aug. 30, 2016, which was two years or two UHR sessions ago.

However, as of Feb. 28, no voting records of any of the fifteen previous meeting of the 2018–19 UHR session have been published online, and in a statement shared with USGA, Terry presented his several concerns about publicizing voting records.

“It has been my objective to improve the culture of our organization and to change the self-serving, less transparent notion that is circulated amongst students. However, it is in this same breadth that I oppose publishing voting records,” Terry wrote near the end of his statement. “While I fully support transparent government, I am against the partisan gamesmanship that comes with publishing voting records. I am against the nature of cowards to anonymously comment on specific representatives and name-blame them on social networks such as Reddit.”

Terry worries that voting records may be used as political ammunition for the upcoming elections. Either ironically or appropriately, in publishing only the Feb. 26 records, he has released the voting records of arguably the most controversial UHR proceedings in recent memory.

The Technique reached out to Graves, who declined to make a statement about the UHR proceedings or resolution.

“The foremost goal of the Elections Committee is to promote the process so it can be inclusive of the entire student body,” said Graves, who advised students to be aware of the updated elections schedule, which was approved by UHR on Tuesday.

Applications have been extended and reopened online at http://www.sga.gatech.edu/ug/?q=elections for all candidates’ positions, and the new deadline for applications is on March 8.