Saturday, November 17

Editorial: Secret ballot voting undermines USAC’s accountability


Early Wednesday morning, leaders of the undergraduate student government made a decision to deny hundreds of assembled community members basic information necessary in assessing their student government.

After almost nine hours of public comment and several additional hours of discussion about a resolution to divest in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, the Undergraduate Students Association Council decided to vote on the resolution with a secret ballot.

USAC’s decision takes extreme liberties with the democratic process. Closed ballots are the province of unions and secret societies – not governing bodies.

Student Wellness Commissioner Savannah Badalich suggested the secret ballot after expressing concern about councilmembers’ safety.

The job of an elected official is not easy – it requires great fortitude to list one’s convictions in a closely watched public forum week after week.

Still, certain principles should supersede personal concerns. The councilmembers who voted in favor of a secret ballot – Maryssa Hall, Sam Haws, Omar Arce, Lizzy Naameh, Jessica Trumble, Savannah Badalich and John Joanino – showed themselves lacking in understanding of the accountability and transparency required of any governing board.

Voting by secret ballot displays a lack of commitment to the principle of transparency. In fact, it demonstrates a calculated willingness to take actions that oppose that principle.

Elected officials are obliged to carry out their duties in full view of the public. The secret ballot is particularly problematic given that some members of council may be running for re-election and voters have no way to examine their full record.

Not to mention the secret vote was undermined by two preceding straw votes that gave students a clear impression of each councilmember’s stance. Both straw votes counted the same 5-7-0 result, with no indication that any official would flip-flop on the resolution.

When the question of whether or not the councilmembers were permitted to vote by secret ballot came up at this week’s meeting, Patty Zimmerman, student government services manager, pointed to “Robert’s Rules of Order” to justify the choice.

However, these rules are merely default guidelines for running meetings, and should not be used as a binding legal reference by USAC.

Those members of council who voted for a secret ballot must backpedal – quickly – by advocating for an open vote on divestment and amending the USAC bylaws, which are ambiguous on this point, to expressly forbid secret ballot.

In so doing, council could take one step toward regaining the student body’s trust, which it has eroded in a series of irresponsible decisions leading up to Wednesday’s vote.

In August, USAC displayed a lack of principle by raising the pay of sitting councilmembers.

In January, it demonstrated a lack of good sense and judgment by appointing an underqualified candidate to run student elections.

And on Tuesday, it demonstrated a lack of moral courage.

Each time, this editorial board believed USAC would see sense and move to correct its missteps. Too often, the council slips into silence, passing or putting off the buck.

For the hundreds of students who spent the night in Ackerman Grand Ballroom eager to make their voices heard and their concerns felt, a public account of their representatives’ votes should be an expectation.

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  • Tammy Rubin

    As someone who opposed the secret ballot for all of the aforementioned reasons
    as stated in this editorial, I’m sickened by the disrespect, hatred, and
    unprofessionalism shown to everyone who sat at the table yesterday (including
    the minute taker) and to all those who both spoke at or even attended the 12
    hour meeting. The point of the secret ballot was to protect the safety of the
    Council, yet when the vote didn’t swing the way some anticipated, the
    opportunity was seized to call them out on it publicly and open a platform for
    threats.

    Opposing the motion to table the resolution because “the students deserved a
    vote after such a long meeting,” pressuring fellow Council member to abstain in
    the hopes of manipulating the results of the straw votes, calling for a secret
    ballot yet disclosing the information anyway were all hypocritical and last-ditch
    efforts to perpetuate the game of politics and to put on a show for the student
    body. We do not deserve that. They do not deserve that.

    Check your privilege, Council.

    • Dismantle USAC

      The minute taker was looking for publicity and she got it. She is the ridicule all over the internet. Just google “Israel meltdown” and you will see what I’m saying.

      • Question

        What happened with the minutes taker?

      • Inappropriate

        After speaking with her and as someone who opposed the resolution, I can assure you that she was in no way looking for publicity. It’s very unfortunate that you seem satisfied with a fellow student being personally ridiculed.

  • Dana

    If individuals who opposed the resolution did not threaten and intimidate council members who were supportive of divestment or on the edge, then there would be no need for a secret ballot. This was an appropriate response to the hateful threats that council members received. They should be protected.

    • David

      ALL council members should have been protected by the secret ballot, regardless of how they voted. Many proponents of divestment vocalized their desire for a secret ballot; to publicly condemn council members after adamantly demanding a secret ballot is pure hypocrisy.

      • Dana

        Criticism of actions of our student government are one thing–we should be critical. Threats are another.

    • Just A Student

      I believe that Savana did not disclose the specific contents of the emails she got, nor did she specify the stance that the senders took on the issue. Do not asert despite fact that the emailers were those who opposed the resolution- that is slander.

      • Dana

        She didn’t have to say it at the council table to know–there are conversations that happened outside of that table. It’s not slander, check yourself. But I’m not going to argue with all of you.

        • Just A Student

          I’m tired of “check yourself” being the go-to response when someone makes a point you disagree with. I will not “check myself” for calling things as I see them. You reference some mysterious conversations, though don’t actually provide any evidence to suggest that you personally know for a fact the stance that the emailers took on the resolution. Therefore one can conclude that your claim is hearsay at best and slander at worst.

          • No, You are the privileged one

            Are you some kind of lawyer or something?

      • ok

        ….If she received hateful emails, what would their stance be given that her vote was known? Obviously people would have to be upset that she didn’t vote for them, thus what’s the opposite of how she voted?

        They were without a doubt anti divestment emails, but could have been from anyone including non UCLA affiliated individuals that were hiding behind the safety of their computer screen

        • Just A Student

          The emails she referred to she received before the meeting so she hadn’t voted in either direction yet. Did she have her mind already made up going in, and did she advertise it? I don’t know the answer to either of those questions.

          Again there has yet to be anything other than your own (or Dana’s) speculations presented regarding the stances of these unknown people (who I dearly hope were not students). I maintain my previous assertion that suggesting the emailers were from either stance is setting you up for slander.

          • No, You are the privileged one

            “I maintain my previous assertion that suggesting the emailers were from either stance is setting you up for slander.”

            Are you a lawyer? I am, and I’m pretty sure that you have no idea what you are talking about. (Hint: Who is going to sue “ok” or “Dana” for slander?)

  • Vegeta

    USAC’s stupidity/moronic/hypocrisy levels are over 9000!

  • Curious Bruin

    If student safety was a priority, why wasn’t the secret ballot done first? The fact that it was done after not only one, but two straw votes? From my point of view, it looked like a final attempt to dissuade council members to vote differently. If student safety was the priority… what about the live stream of meeting that none of the members consented to? ESP the note taker.

  • reader

    Several people who opposed the resolution accused supporters of the resolution of engaging in anti-Semitism. Supporters of the resolution (including those with Jewish background) described their respect for the Jewish identity and the Jewish state, but were unable to stop the inappropriate accusations. If it is not possible to have a conversation about a contentious issue without slanderous statements being made, then the identity of voting members must be protected.