2023 elections bring new party and last-minute presidential switch

2023 marks a lively election season with student government | Elise Gregg, PantherNOW

Elise Gregg | Editor-in-Chief

For the first time since 2021, several parties will field candidates in the student government association elections in March – with a last-minute switch in candidates for the newest party.

Current pro-tempore Zachary Stangl will jump in as presidential candidate after the SGA judicial branch ruled that they would adopt a newer definition of a year, changing the eligibility for candidates. 

It’s a definition that Stangl helped write months ago. 

Though Stangl was not listed as a candidate with Gold and Blue either on social media or the Panther Connect page at the beginning of campaign season, their Instagram page features a video of him advocating for the party.

However, Gold and Blue did have other candidates listed on Panther Connect: Jillian Salvi Cruz & Kaylie Goicoechea for president and vice president, respectively. 

Cruz was replaced by Stangl on Feb. 16, with the website updated before 5:00 p.m.

Stangl was originally considered ineligible to run on an executive ticket. 

Though Stangl had yet to comment on his candidacy and eligibility as of the time of publishing, signs point to meeting the old standard for the length of time as an FIU student, as he became eligible after the courts ruled in favor of changing the definition of a year for election purposes. 

A bill passed last November, sponsored by Stangl, now changes that old standard after the SGA courts ruled that the definition of a year in that statute is now applicable to elections.

S.B. 03 008, Codification of the Meet Your Dean event, codifies the event into SGA law – what it is and how it’s supposed to be run. 

However, discreetly tucked into the bill’s second provision, is a piece that changes a year from its current definition to “two consecutive academic semesters inclusive of each summer semester.”

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Codification of the Meet Your Dean event | Courtesy of SGA executive board.

In this context, it simply explains when SGA can host Meet Your dean. 

In terms of elections, however, it would make Stangl eligible to run. 

Under the standard constitutional practice, SGA used a different definition of a year to establish standards for who could run for president. 

However, Stangl submitted a writ of interpretation to the judicial branch to define a year. On Feb. 16, in the middle of deliberations and mere hours before debates on Thursday evening, the supreme court interpreted the bill as being applicable for elections.

Chief Justice Sebastian Aviles had only limited room to speak on the decision during an earlier interview, as the opinion in the case had not been officially documented and published. 

“It hasn’t been filed yet,” said Aviles, confirming that they had an opinion. “Per the statutes, we have up until five business days to submit it, but I do know that this is an election so hopefully we’ll be able to get that up as soon as possible.” 

Less than an hour later, it was officially sent to SGA’s e-board. At the time of publication, it had not yet been published on their website.

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Opinion on the definition of a year. | Courtesy of SGA executive board.

In the five-page opinion, justices examined several definitions of a year in terms of elections and SGA purposes, particularly examining discrepancies between the Meet Your Dean and Student Government Association Constitution (SGAC) 5.02.3, which addresses the term length for president and vice-president. 

Specifically, their evaluation centered on what would constitute two years for the purposes of executive eligibility. 

In essence, SGAC 5.02.3 states that terms for president and vice-president “shall be a one-year term beginning on the last day for faculty to submit the grades for the Spring Semester at 12:00 p.m.” ending the following spring semester at the same time.

This interpretation would mean that the two-year requirement would have to be fulfilled by attending FIU chronologically, without pause, from one spring semester from the last day to submit grades through “following Summer, following Fall, following Spring, following Summer, following Fall, following Spring.” 

“In evaluating both governing documents, this Court found that although both provisions use the term “year”, they are defined in different contexts,” states the opinion: SGAC defines it as when the president serves, while Meet Your Dean states what a year is.

In balancing the pros and cons of both definitions, the court found that the SGAC 5.02.3 definition may “unfairly burden” students in terms of taking time off from school, the cost of tuition, fees and housing, and bar students who graduate early, transfer students, etc.

“In contrast, basing the two-year requirement on completed semesters as outlined in [Meet Your Dean]  provides several benefits,” the opinion states. “This interpretation ensures that the student has had adequate experience at FIU, while also avoiding the pitfalls of not allowing students who graduate in less than four years to serve as student body president.” 

Further, justices add that this interpretation ensures that students have been a student in two different calendar years and have standing as at least a junior – an important part of the old definition.

Aviles, who is in the same fraternity as Stangl (Phi Delta Theta), abstained from voting in the opinion. He also encouraged students to do their own research on candidates, not viewing any judicial opinions as a form of endorsement. 

“This opinion is solely on the interpretation of a constitutional provision,” said Aviles. “We encourage all students to take an active role in the voting process: that’s what makes elections fair and equal.”

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