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Former SA senator files complaint over SA presidential election

Prayag Gordy / Thresher

By Prayag Gordy and Viola Hsia     3/22/22 10:50pm

An email endorsement from Rice PRIDE is the focus of a complaint regarding the recent Student Association presidential election. Will Rice sophomore and former SA Senator William Tsai filed his objection with the University Court on March 2.

PRIDE endorsed incoming president Gabby Franklin in an email to their Listserv sent on Feb. 26. Franklin, a Brown College sophomore, won the election by 31 votes over Martel College junior Madison Bunting.

The SA’s bylaws prohibit candidates from campaigning through mass emails. The bylaws also say that others cannot “circumvent” the rules on a candidate’s behalf.

“Individuals or groups who campaign for a candidate, initiative, or referendum are subject to the same campaign rules, and any expenses shall be counted toward the candidate’s expenses,” the bylaws state. “A violation of the campaign rules by individuals or groups campaigning on behalf of a candidate, initiative, or referendum shall still be considered a violation on the part of the candidate or representative.”

If the Election Committee finds an elected student violated election rules in their campaign, the bylaws state that they should be removed from their position. The outgoing and incoming presidents of the University Court did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

According to outgoing SA President Kendall Vining, SA election results are rarely contested.

“From what I know, this is not common,” Vining said. “I kind of see why it’s not common because it seems like it makes things more difficult for everybody.”

PRIDE also published their endorsement in their GroupMe chat and on their Instagram page. Co-president Moses Glickman said PRIDE was not aware of the election bylaws prohibiting Listserv endorsements.

“Because SA election regulations to those not involved in the campaign process are obscure or somewhat obscure, none of us realized that the Listserv approach broke any campaign rules,” Glickman, a Martel College senior, said.

Glickman said PRIDE sent their Listserv endorsement without Franklin’s knowledge.

“To be clear, this was a decision made entirely without Gabby’s input. If her campaign team had been consulted, presumably she would have been able to shoot down the idea because she has specific expertise on that issue, but we did not,” Glickman said.

Bria Weisz, the SA’s director of elections, said the Election Committee cleared Franklin of wrongdoing soon after PRIDE first shared their endorsement.

“When we talked to Rice PRIDE, we realized that they had made this endorsement announcement without consulting Gabby first, and therefore Gabby not only was unaware of the matter, but she also did not have a chance to inform Rice PRIDE of the email rule,” Weisz, a Brown College junior, said. “The election committee determined that it would not have been a fair decision to disqualify Gabby for something she had no control over.”

In the complaint, Tsai wrote that PRIDE’s email was campaigning on behalf of Franklin.

“Because [PRIDE] used a medium that is not permitted, they are in violation of the bylaws,” Tsai wrote. “Furthermore, as a violation by a group campaigning on behalf of a candidate shall be treated as a violation by the candidate, Gabby Franklin has directly violated campaign laws.”

Tsai said he supported Bunting in the election, but filed the complaint on his own accord.

“I filed the complaint because I had witnessed a violation of the rules and could not remain a silent bystander,” Tsai wrote in an email to the Thresher. “If the executive board’s interpretation of SA elections bylaws is upheld, it would mean anyone or any group with Listserv access could campaign for a candidate as long as there is no evidence of collaboration. This is a dangerous precedent to set.”

Tsai said he hopes the University Court will consider his objection.

“When they rule, the decision should not be based on politics,” Tsai said. “By that, I mean that they are not to consider the disruption that an overturning of results would cause. As a court, their role is to hear the facts of the case and make an impartial decision based on those facts only. Currently, the indisputable fact is that Rice PRIDE encouraged members to vote for Gabby through mass email. Whether UCourt believes that to be a violation will set the tone for future SA elections to come.”

The changeover of the SA executive team will take place on March 28, according to Vining, who said she is proceeding as planned with the transition process.

“The SA president transition period occurs over weeks,” Vining said. “It’s important to introduce [the incoming president] to key faculty, key admin, set up those meetings, because you need to carry over what we were talking about this year … It’s a whole packet that’s pages and pages long that she needs to review.”

The complaint may complicate this changeover, Vining said.

“It’s just a really thorough process, just to ensure that the SA president is set up for success,” Vining said. “I am concerned that the election has been contested, because I’m left wondering [if changeover will be delayed].”

UCourt’s decision would set an important precedent, according to Bunting. 

“If all you have to do is make sure there’s no paper trail and just deny that any of the parties involved knew what was happening, then that’s an unfair advantage and kind of defeats the purpose of having the rule against [Listserv endorsements],” Bunting said.

Glickman said that punishing Franklin for PRIDE’s violation would hurt the SA’s reputation.

“The important thing is we were not clued into those regulations before and we did our best to address them once [the complaint] occurred,” Glickman said. “Gabby’s team was not consulted in any of this, it was not done with their knowledge, certainly not with their consent. The remedy proposed by [Tsai] would be disastrous for the democratic legitimacy of the SA.”

Many clubs are not familiar with the SA’s election bylaws, according to Glickman.

“I think even just a cursory email at the start of the SA election to the usual suspects in terms of endorsements … could be helpful, just making sure that this situation won’t occur,” Glickman said.

Bunting said the SA should clarify their campaigning rules.

“Whether that means if the person doesn’t know, or there’s not a paper trail, whether that makes it okay, or not okay, [they should decide]” Bunting said. “Just to prevent confusion around [this rule] in the future, I think something like that would be helpful.”

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