MTD referendum question declared “not certified”

By Mary Beth Versaci

The March referendum asking students if they approved of a $12 increase in transportation fees was declared “not certified” by the Student Election Commission at its meeting Tuesday.

According to the commission’s Web site, which contains the official election results, the referendum was declared “not certified due to unforeseen confusion with the question.”

“We felt it was difficult to understand what the question actually meant,” said Mike Wilson, commission co-chair.

He said that the question implied the current routes were being kept and just expanded. He did not realize the routes were actually being rewritten until the first day of the election when he read a Daily Illini article about the plan. This is when he recognized that there could be confusion over the details of the University’s contract negotiations with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. His understanding of the plan through the question and the reality of the plan were two different things, he said.

“It was based on the wording,” Wilson said. “If the plan was actually different, we would have less of an issue with (the question).”

Tom Costello, chief operating officer at MTD, said he first heard of the Commission’s decision Wednesday morning.

“I don’t know what that means,” he said. “What I do know is that there were over 3,000 signatures (on the petition), and the referendum passed.”

The referendum had a total of 6,175 votes. Of the 6,825 students who submitted a ballot, 45.70 percent voted “yes” and 44.78 percent voted “no,” according to official SEC results.

“We had an election; we posed a question at students,” Costello said. “In that sense, the referendum passed.”

The MTD is supposed to react to student opinions, he said. At this time, Costello said the MTD is unsure of what it should do next.

“We have the 3,000 signatures, the support of the paper,” he said. “We’re not sure how else we can show we have student support.”

In the past, when students voted on a fee increase in regards to MTD contract negotiations, the referendum was posed just as a question, said Jaclyn O’Day, student body president. The Illinois Student Senate did not realize it could be accompanied by an explanatory paragraph, which was seen with other referendums on the online ballot.

“A paragraph is not in the election rules,” she said. “There’s never been an explanatory paragraph; there’s always been a question.”

O’Day discovered the referendum was “not certified” late Tuesday night when she was looking at the Web site in preparation for appearing at the Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday. During the public comment, she told the Board about the results of the referendum, but she said she still stressed that the Senate endorsed the new plan.

O’Day said she believes students will approve of the plan when they have all the information.

“Once students fully understand it, a majority of students will be in support of it,” she said.