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SA election garners record turnout

Jocelyn Wright // Published February 27, 2009 in Rice Thresher

Article about Rice University's February 2009 student elections, which were done using instant runoff voting. Turnout was the highest in over two decades.

A total of 1,610 students, over half of the undergraduate population, voted in the Student Association General Elections last week. The mass of students who voted gave this election the highest turnout in well over a decade, SA Director of Elections Timothy Faust said.

The candidates were elected through a preferential voting system. The candidate receiving the fewest number of votes had his or her votes redistributed to other candidates depending on the preferential order of each individual ballot. Before any vote redistribution, Brown College junior Patrick McAnaney lead the race for Student Association President race with 555 votes. Jones College junior Matthew Weingast started in second with 411 votes; Martel College sophomore Nicholas Muscara, third place with 295 votes and Martel senior Alexander Crompton, fourth place with 151. Write-in candidates took 28 first-place ballots. After all votes had been redistributed, McAnaney won with 793 votes to second-place Weingast's 526. McAnaney will take the position officially at SA Changeover on March 23.

All of the candidates said they were pleased with the record turnout this year. McAnaney said Weingast and Crompton both brought in a lot of new voters.

"It was a really exciting campaign," McAnaney said. "There was a level of enthusiasm that hasn't been seen before. It shows where the SA is going and that it has potential to build on."

Weingast said he hoped his campaign had encouraged students who had not participated in the SA Senate previously to become more involved.

"That was a lot of the point of why I ran - not to break the record but for the kids who didn't really care about the SA," Weingast, who was not previously involved with the SA Senate, said.

Muscara and Weingast both said they were confident McAnaney would do well in his new position.

"He is passionate about the SA and I know he's going to do a great job as president," Muscara said.

McAnaney said he was going to use his first weeks in office to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible by arranging meetings with the incoming and outgoing officers.

"I think what's most important now is to look at the big picture because this is really the only time we can do that," McAnaney said.

McAnaney said he planned to reach out to Weingast and Muscara so that they would stay involved.

"It's silly to turn away any people who are enthusiastic and want to be involved in the SA," McAnaney said. "I think they will be a great asset and I don't think the election should be the end of their participation."

Crompton, who spoke in poetry during the SA debate, said his campaign attracted student interest.

"I'd say I think my campaign raised the level of awareness about issues of sexiness on campus," he said. "Rice's prettiest cohorts have stressed overwhelming approval of my campaign."

Crompton also wanted to clarify that his campaign's purpose was to raise student awareness about SA activities.

"Martel [College] has a long tradition of sending joke candidates to the SA to draw awareness to important issues on campus, like, or in my case sexiness," he said. "I give off the impression of being really conceited, but it's a joke."

Amber Makhani was elected SA External Vice President. Selim Sheikh and Tiffany Wu won SA Internal Vice President and Treasurer, respectively, in uncontested elections.

Angela Wu won U-Court Sophomore Representative, Alice Tsao won RSVP Chair, Grace Chang won RSVP External Vice Chair, Danielle Axelson won RSVP Internal Vice Chair and Sarah James won RSVP Secretary.

Tina Cai won RSVP Treasurer in a hotly-contested election. She defeated John Sanders by two votes, 370 to 368.

Michelle Kerkstra won Rice Program Council President, Casey Michel won Thresher Editor-in-Chief, Rachel Orosco won KTRU Station Manager, Trevor Rice won RTV5 Station Manager, Brandon Cisneros won RTV5 Program Director and Alexander Wyatt won Representative to the University Council.

Per their constitution, the Honor Council will use the election results to determine the Honor Council representatives, which will be announced at a later date.

The removal of University Blue's blanket tax passed with 86 percent of the vote. None of the other proposed blanket taxes received the necessary 67 percent of the vote to pass. R2: The Rice Review came closest, garnering 64 percent of the vote.

The proposal to amend Article XII and remove Article XXI of the Honor Council Constitution did not pass. The proposal received 46 percent of the vote, making this the second year in a row it did not pass.

This election boasted the greatest number of votes cast in any election and the highest undergraduate participation since the early 1980s, when the SA ran elections through paper ballots in individual colleges. The polls opened last Friday shortly after midnight and stayed open for five days. Many students voted early; over 1,000 students had voted by Sunday at midnight.

"We did the best we could with what we had, and we tried as many new things as we could to give everyone the opportunity to vote," Faust said.

To encourage voter turnout, Faust distributed "I Voted" stickers, urged students to vote in the Rice Memorial Center, put an advertisement on Facebook, raised the campaign limit for presidential candidates to 50 dollars and got Assistant Dean of Students Boyd Beckwith to approve changing the computer screens in the RMC to default to the voting site.

Faust said he encouraged candidates to think beyond posters for their campaigns.

"Posters are boring," Faust said. "We saw lots of different things this year, [including] buttons, sidewalk chalk, fliers on tabletops, and a lot of enthusiastic person-to-person campaigning."

Faust said the large number of presidential candidates and the presence of seven ballot issues - one Honor Council amendment and six blanket tax proposals - also drew more voters.

Faust also said he was pleasantly surprised by Weingast's success.

"In recent years, the candidates have been pretty involved in the SA Senate with, as far back as I can find, one left-field candidate who does poorly," Faust said. "This year the dark horse ran a superb race. The fact that [Weingast] brought in a lot of folks who otherwise wouldn't have given a damn about the SA and got them to learn about the issues and vote made my day, gave me a big ol' grin. But the fact that over half the student body voted? Dude, I'm delighted. I'm ecstatic."