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RPC tax proposal removed from SA ballot

By Molly Chiu     2/20/13 6:00pm


The proposal to increase Rice Program Council's blanket tax by $3 was removed from the ballot last Friday after RPC was found to be in violation of election rules. All votes for the ballot are now null and void, according to Student Association Director of Elections Monica Zatarain. 

A formal complaint was filed to the SA about emails that went out to several college email lists from RPC representatives encouraging students to vote in favor of the resolution, Zatarain said. According to the official campaign rules, which were presented to the candidates both in the elections packet and at a mandatory meeting for candidates and representatives of causes, neither candidates nor people campaigning on behalf of a cause may send out campaign emails, whether mass or individual. 

The SA Election Committee launched an investigation into the complaint and found evidence of campaign emails sent to three colleges. The committee then combined with members of the SA Executive Committee and met with RPC's Executive Council to allow RPC to respond to the allegations. According to RPC President Catherine Yuh, RPC's Executive Council asked college representatives to publicize the blanket tax increase, and it was not made clear that campaign emails were prohibited. Yuh said that at the meeting, she did acknowledge that RPC was in the wrong but that the violation was unintentional. 

"I recognize that, as RPC president, it was my responsibility to inform all 56 of our members of the rules set forth by the SA," Yuh said. "Unfortunately, when I read the [SA] constitution, I overlooked the clause disallowing campaign emails from both candidates and causes. I understood that campaign emails from candidates [were] disallowed, but due to my own oversight error, I did not realize that emails for causes were subject to the same code." 

Zatarain said that because this violation has not come up before, there was no clear precedent in how to handle the case. Ultimately, the committee decided RPC was in violation of the campaign rules. 

"There were [RPC] people at the mandatory candidate meeting, and they should have informed their representatives," Zatarain said. 

Yuh said she wants to apologize for the violation. 

"I'd like to take this as an opportunity to apologize to any Rice students who feel that RPC meant any harm in sending out Listserv emails," Yuh said. "This was not our intention at all, and we apologize for the oversight error." 

The Election Committee decided to allow RPC to resubmit its proposal to the ballot for any upcoming election, as long as the proposal receives the approval of a 2/3 majority of the voting Student Senate members, Zatarain said. The next opportunity will be the spring election, which will take place March 11-15. 

SA President Sanjula Jain said she believed Zatarain and the Election Committee handled the situation gracefully and according to procedure and that the verdict was fair. 

"Both the Election and Executive Committees were empathetic to the cause and situation and therefore felt that providing the option to re-enter the ballot in the spring election was the most lenient option available," Jain said. 

Yuh said RPC has not decided yet whether it will re-enter the ballot initiative for the spring election. 

"We're weighing different factors, including student interest, student responsiveness and voter turnout," Yuh said. "Voter turnout in the spring election is typically lower. For any blanket tax request to pass, we will need 20 percent of students to vote. If we choose not to put the request on the spring ballot, we can use next year to address some of the ongoing student concerns regarding our events, then revisit the request after gauging student interest." 

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