Leaders of ASPSU campaign disqualified from election for misuse of PSU emails

The Judicial Review Board, an organ of the Associated Students of Portland State University which serves as the Elections Committee during elections, made a decision on Friday that disqualified members of the Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today platform from the student government election.

Presidential candidate Marcus Sis, vice presidential candidate Erica Fuller, Student Fee Committee candidate Khalid Alballaa and campaign manager Landru Parker have all received major infractions that eliminated them from the election.

All remaining members of the Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today platform have received minor infractions that did not automatically disqualify their candidacy.

The infractions are in response to a mass email sent to PSU addresses in order to solicit votes. This decision came just hours before student voting closed at 7 p.m. on Friday.

“Obviously it’s a big hit on the entire [platform]. They are clearly a group of very hard working students,” said ASPSU advisor Candace Avalos. “I’ve watched them create a very special bond together. They feel very passionately about what they do.”

Members of Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today declined to comment. Sis said in a text message, “A comment from us would be inappropriate (in our view) when this situation is still fluid, especially with the way this is affecting some of our teammates right now.”

Take Back PSU! presidential candidate Eric Noll filed a grievance against the Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today slate regarding the mass email that was sent to all pdx.edu email addresses. In an Elections Committee hearing on Thursday, Noll argued that this action was in violation of the Acceptable Use Policy of PSU.

According to a report published by the Elections Committee, the Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today platform accessed the emails through their PSU Gmail accounts. The message was sent to this list through a service called MailChimp. Student, faculty and department email addresses received the platform’s message. This included PSU President Wim Wiewel.

In the Elections Committee’s written decision, Parker is described as pointing out that students have the option to opt out of this vulnerability when they register for their Odin accounts. For this reason, Parker claimed the platform’s actions were justified.

“I buy the fact that the Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today were under the impression that this was okay,” said Elections Committee member Adam Wunische, “but I think they had an idea that this might have been a bad thing.”

Sis and Fuller are said to have claimed that they were unaware of the specifics of this campaign strategy and its violation of the Acceptable Use Policy. The Elections Committee based its decision to disqualify them on a need for accountability among campaign leadership. In the committee’s analysis, they concluded that ultimate responsibility would fall on the platform’s leadership.

“What we got generally at the very beginning [of the hearing], [Alballaa] and [Parker] were claiming they were absolutely the only ones who knew this was going on,” Wunische said. “As the hearing progressed it came out that more and more people knew about it.

“Eventually we got the point [in the hearing] where everybody knew that the email was going to be used as a strategy, but nobody knew this is how they were getting the email addresses. They were just telling people it was the student directory.”

According to the written decision, members of the platform had planned to send out a second email. The committee’s final decision states, “The Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today slate had created a separate list with names that they thought were international students based on the spelling of names. The plan was to send them a separate message focusing on international students, but once the infraction was filed, this message was not sent.”

“Had the election been handled professionally we would not have had a major infraction,” said Elections Committee Chief Justice Victoria Hutfilz.

According to the decision, PSU’s Office of Information Technology had several conversations with members of Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today regarding these email lists. OIT Associate Chief Information Officer and Chief Information Security Officer Chuck Lanham said that he made clear to Alballaa that the use of the email list is a violation of the Acceptable Use Policy and can be traced.

Avalos discussed a consultation with OIT that preceded Thursday’s hearing. “Bottom line, the decision came out that ‘yes, it was a violation.’ That’s a decision that not the [Elections Committee] made, but that OIT made—that this is violating their Acceptable Use Policy.”

The published conclusion of the hearing reads, “We cannot allow such a gross disadvantage to exist between two slates, specifically when that disadvantage was created by a method that was both disingenuous and against university policy.”

The document also states, “The fact that this even occurred in the first place was either due to an impressive display of apathy or intentional ignorance. Both of which do not clear the members of blame.

“This conduct was an embarrassment to the Elections Committee, ASPSU, and the university as a whole,” it continues.

“I certainly wasn’t too sure about using that strong of language, but the decision was a very heavy-handed one and I wanted to make sure everyone knew why that was the case,” Wunische said.

“[The candidates] mined thousands of email addresses for the purpose of spamming for their campaign,” Wunische added. “During the hearing we kind of got the attitude from [the candidates] that it wasn’t a big deal.”

“The [Acceptable Use Policy] is easily accessible,” Wunische added. “It’s in perfectly plain language that these email addresses can’t be used for spamming. I think it was a really simple task for them to be able to find that.

“Students for a Better Tomorrow, Today—especially [SFC candidate] Devon Backstrom—emailed the Elections Committee on multiple occasions to see if a certain action or strategy was within the regulations. We’ve been able to let him know what our opinions were so those things never became an issue. It would have been as simple as that.”

Hutfilz concluded the hearing by saying, “All of this could have been avoided with a simple email.”

The candidates who have received major infractions have been removed from the ballot. This year, 1,484 students cast votes in the election. Any votes that went toward the disqualified candidates will be discounted.

Voter turnout this year is nearly three times greater than last year’s election. Throughout this year’s election process, ASPSU has emphasized gaining stronger student involvement. Discounting votes has the potential to affect student voter morale, Wunische said.
“This is what made our decision so difficult,” Wunische added in an email. “I think a [student] government gains legitimacy in two ways. The first, obviously, is being selected by and gaining power through the students by way of elections.

“The second way is through accountability. [Student] governments that can’t police themselves or maintain a basic level of ethical behavior are as illegitimate as one that wasn’t elected.”

“I hope this sets some guidelines for our expectations in the future and for the betterment of the school itself,” Hutfilz said. “I hope it ensures [ASPSU candidates’] professional relationship with the school.”

The Elections Committee will meet today to review several more reports of minor infractions submitted throughout the campaign. Final election results will be announced today at 3 p.m. at the Simon Benson House.

For ASPSU election results, visit psuvanguard.com.