2009 Special Fee Refund Coming

The ASSU recently confirmed that five groups from the 2009 Special Fees Election were wrongly reported to have garnered the requisite number of student votes to receive funding. These groups include the Stanford Chaparral, Stanford Students in Entertainment, the Leland Quarterly, the Stanford Cardinal Broadcasting Network, and The Stanford Progressive.

After the most recent 2010 election, the 2009 Elections Commission announced that the five groups had received the necessary number of votes necessary to pass, when in reality they were below the cut-off point.  As a result, the student body was overcharged through the Student Activities fee by $14 per student, according to Stanford Student Enterprises CEO Matt McLaughlin.

The 2009 Elections Commissioner, Briana Tatum ‘10, was contacted several times but did not wish to comment.

According to the ASSU Constitution, “A Special Fee shall be deemed to have passed if a majority of those voting on it from each of the relevant populations were in favor and if those in favor constituted at least 15 percent of those members of the Association eligible to vote on that Special Fee.” **

Based on last year’s student enrollment and voting data, the five Special Fees that wrongfully passed did, indeed, receive a majority of the votes that were cast; however, the number of “yes” votes did notconstitute at least 15 percent of the eligible members of the student body. Thus, the five Special Fees did not meet the requirements set out by the ASSU Constitution.

Quinn Slack ‘11, the current Elections Commissioner, was the first person to detect the error in last year’s election. Slack described how the Elections Commission typically determines how many votes are necessary to constitute 15 percent of the student body:  “We get actual data from the registrar…We use winter quarter numbers for petitions and we [get] new data in early April for the spring ballot. Because the ASSU’s definition of [undergraduate] students and co-terms differs from the standard University definition, they pull data specifically for us and it is not public,” he said.

After these numbers are determined, it is the responsibility of the Elections Commission to siphon through the election results and determine which groups achieved the necessary number of votes.

Slack explains, “Just the [Elections] Commission checks [the results]…According to a 3/11 e-mail to the ASSU Senate List from Adam Beberg, [the] Senate and GSC have no official role in confirming results under the [ASSU] Constitution.”

When the mishap was originally discovered, the original recommendation, based on Senate Minutes from April 20, 2010, was to do nothing. Other proposals, however, included the possibility of a mass refund to students this year paid out of the buffer fund or to under-collect next year to counteract the over-collection this year.

More recent talks between the administration, legislature, and SSE, however, indicate that a general refund is going to take place. “The ASSU will provide the University with the necessary funds to issue this credit. Like the current refund process, the refund is actually issued as a credit to one’s outstanding balance with the University,” said McLaughlin.

In order to be eligible, a student must have held undergraduate status during spring 2010 quarter, must not receive a NCAA scholarship, and must not request an activities refund in excess of $14 for spring quarter.

The question of how to prevent this situation in the future is also being discussed.  Slack claims that there are so many election rules that are obsolete which complicate the process.  “There are so many rules, many of them outdated or conflicting, and much of it is even unwritten,” he said.

According to Slack, the word count of the election rules in our various governing documents at Stanford is greater than the total governing document word counts of several of our peer institutions.

Moreover, many Special Fees groups are unaware of the fact that they are required to turn out at least 15% of the student body in addition to gaining a majority of votes.

Otis Reid ’12, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Journal of International Relations, a Special Fees group, explained that had groups been cognizant that the “yes” votes were required to account for 15% of the student body, they probably would have campaigned more heavily.

It remains to be seen whether Special Fees election rules will change in the future.

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