Deitchman: Why doesn’t ASG want us to know how they vote?

Alex Deitchman, Guest Columnist

Who’s your Associated Student Government Senator? How did he or she vote on the last piece of legislation that was important to you?

Don’t know? That’s no surprise. The reason for that is because the ASG Senate has made it established practice never to conduct a roll call vote — that is, a vote in which each individual senator’s yea, nay or abstention is recorded and put into the minutes, which then become public record. I’ve been in Senate since Winter Quarter of 2013. I’m one of the more experienced Senators, and I’ve never missed a single Senate or a single vote. I can’t prove that to you, though, because not a single attempt to call for a roll call vote has been successful since I’ve been in Senate. In other words, I have zero votes on record — no yeas, no nays, no abstentions. The vast majority of Senators can say the same.

I joined Isaac Rappoport, Lauren Thomas and others on Wednesday last week in an attempt to change ASG’s code in order to address this fact. The code change would have allowed one-fifth of Senators to call for a roll call vote on any legislation, which would supersede any calls for a division vote (a simple tally of Senators who stand or sit for yes or no votes) or a secret ballot vote. The secret ballot vote would have remained the default and highest option for individual personnel confirmation votes and understandably so.

This effort was, to my shock, defeated by a majority of Senators who chose instead to vote for a measure which would allow any single Senator to call for a secret ballot vote on any issue before Senate. This motion would not permit objections or debate and would supersede any other method of voting.

In other words, a majority of your Senators don’t want you to know how they vote. Reasons given in support of this change were that Senators whose votes on controversial issues go on the record may face harassment from constituents or be put into dilemmas where constituents want them to vote one way and student groups or friends in ASG want them to vote another. Senators suggested that it may be too difficult to resist peer pressure when their votes are public knowledge.

One disturbing conversation led to a Senator confessing that allowing Senators to retain leadership positions for their resumes could be more important than allowing constituents to know how each Senator voted. Because ASG votes are insignificant compared to the potential fallout of a publicized unpopular vote, public voting could ruin a Senator’s relationships and future careers.

This is not an acceptable attitude for a representative in your student government. We are not here for our own professional development; we are here for you. If you don’t know how your Senators are voting, how can you make an informed decision when they run for re-election or when they endorse future candidates who, supposedly, will vote much the same as they did?

Email or get in contact with your Senators. Let them know you did not elect them for their benefit. You elected them for yours. They are there to serve you, and they should be comfortable with their votes on the legislation that is important to you being public knowledge.

Until this measure is passed, I will record my own votes each Wednesday and publish them. I call on all Senators who believe the same as I do — that Senate is about service — to do the same. Students, make a note if your Senators do not decide to join me. Then when they say they are representing you faithfully, ask yourself: Are you going to just take their word for it?

Alex Deitchman is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]com.

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