Columns / Discourse / April 3, 2019

Senate’s secret vote threatens its legitimacy

This past Thursday Student Senate voted on a petition brought by Common Ground on whether or not to defund InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), on the basis that their national chapter has a blatantly homophobic stance. The petition failed with a 7-17 vote. I personally will say that I was one of those seven who voted to defund. The petition failing, at its core, is not what I have an issue with here. My issue is with the way that the Student Senate president unilaterally declared at the beginning of the meeting that the voting process was a secret ballot, despite objections. Only once since I’ve served on Senate has there been a secret ballot, which was when we voted for new exec positions after a slew of resignations last term. There was no need to do a secret ballot here. The meeting was full of people, from both sides, who had a right to know how their representatives voted. Hiding behind a secret ballot allows people to vote in a way that they are publicly afraid to, which means they shouldn’t be voting that way at all.

Though changing the vote so it was out in the open may not have changed the overall result, I do believe it would have changed at least some of the votes. Right after the vote, someone made a post in the student meme group asking for senators who were there to identify which way they voted. Five senators commented, including myself. All of them said they voted to defund. What are the odds that five out of seven senators who voted to defund saw the post and none of the other 17 did? Clearly, there are those out there who voted in favor of IVCF, but do not want to identify themselves.

We were elected by the students. This means that for EVERY vote we make, we should be not only able to but willing to tell the student body how we voted. That’s literally our main job in Senate, to vote on issues on behalf of those who elected us. As senators we are voting as representatives, not as individuals. Before voting, I talked to the people around me who I represent and got their opinion on the situation. I am confident in my vote and proudly stand by it, knowing that I have constituents to back me up. If you’re a senator who doesn’t feel the same, you should not have voted, regardless of which way it was for, and you should not be in Senate. It is no secret that Senate has been struggling as an organization recently. It needs members that take it and the values it represents seriously. One of these values is its ability to be an open forum. By hiding the vote we’re only further alienating an already skeptical student body.

I am tired of the Senate President changing, ignoring and manipulating the bylaws to get what he wants. Evoking a bylaw to get elected, and then weeks later suspending the very same bylaw he evoked in order to skip an elections process is undeniably shady, but at least we had a chance to discuss it as a Senate. This time it wasn’t up for discussion, it was an order. When I specifically asked if we could vote as a Senate on whether or not to do a secret ballot I was shot down with the reasoning “I decided it’s a secret ballot, so no.” That’s bullshit. No one should be able to make a unilateral decision like that. Taking away people’s ability to know how their senator voted is stripping Senate of transparency, something that it simply cannot afford to lose.


Rachel Watson

Tags:  ivcf secret ballot Student Senate

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