When the Yale College Council elections kick off April 14, students will not have to add unsolicited e-mails and sluggish e-mail servers to their list of reading week worries.
Last night the YCC passed a set of election guideline changes that will regulate candidates’ use of e-mail in election races. Both candidates and their supporters may send out campaign e-mails, but the recipients must be personally acquainted with the sender. The proposal also prohibits everyone but leaders of organizations to use e-mail listservers for endorsement purposes. Disclaimers must be attached to each e-mail stating that no unsolicited e-mails are allowed in the campaign period. In the case of a violation, any member of the student body may file a complaint to the YCC.
Following a YCC discussion Sunday night, the Election Committee, comprised of four non-YCC students and chaired by YCC Vice President Leah Zimmerman ’02, drafted the proposal.
“There are some grey areas in the guidelines,” Zimmerman said. “But this structure is better suited and explicitly states the rules. There were lots of complaints about unsolicited e-mails last year, and we want to have fewer complaints this time. We just want to reduce the volume of e-mails without reducing the voter turnout.”
The entire debate revolving around unsolicited e-mails was sparked by last year’s controversial elections, which featured a host of aggravated students, negative campaigning and so many e-mails that servers were slowed down. The fiasco resulted in six candidates being convicted of eight violations, including YCC President Libby Smiley ’02 and her run-off contest opponent Robbie Wilkins ’03.
“Last year, there were e-mails flying everywhere, from everybody to everybody,” Smiley said. “And the complaints were really difficult to handle, for both the candidates and the election committee.”
The vagueness of the term “unsolicited e-mail” led to mass e-mails containing campaign endorsements and disparaging remarks about opponents. Zimmerman said the candidates had interpreted the term to mean that candidates could not e-mail anyone they did not know.
“The term is too vague, and it invites abuse into the system,” Zimmerman said.
On the last day of the presidential runoff contest, the YCC banned all campaign e-mails.
But despite all the scandals and controversy surrounding last year’s election, the YCC received its highest voter turnout ever. Last year 2,719 students, about half of the undergraduate population, voted.
Some YCC representatives said the sheer volume of e-mails resulted in the record turnout.
“I would favor unregulated e-mails because limited political speech is a problem,” Davenport College representative Jack Snyder ’03 said. “If [Information Technology Services] isn’t capable of handling the e-mails then they should look into it. Political speech shouldn’t be compromised because of technical concerns.”
Like Snyder, many YCC representatives said they believe e-mail is an effective tool in reaching the voters and communicating candidates’ views; however, the issue of its regulation has conjured much debate.
“E-mail is a very valuable tool, but it has to be used carefully,” Smiley said. “And it’s not the only method of campaigning. Regulating e-mail opens up the possibility of face-to-face campaigning, which is the best way.”
Skeptics of e-mail regulation pointed to the practicality of e-mail and necessity of it in daily life, especially at Yale.
“There’s no real way to run a campaign at this school without e-mail,” YCC Treasurer Vidhya Prabhakaran ’03 said. “I think limiting it to the candidates would alleviate a lot of problems. But I certainly think we should use e-mail.”
Although not all YCC members agreed with the new guidelines, most believe this year’s election will run more smoothly.
“Last year was left a little open, and we went through all the election controversy [then],” Wilkins said. “Now people know what’s right and wrong, so I think Leah and the election committee will do a great job this year.