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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

DSG Senate passes amendment to increase voting transparency

At their weekly meeting, senators and representatives discussed a proposed amendment to publish a public roll call of all votes and passed a revised version the next day.

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On May 26, the Dartmouth Student Government Senate met for its ninth weekly meeting of the spring term. Led by student body president Jessica Chiriboga ’24, the Senate discussed an amendment to increase transparency by publishing a public roll call of all votes, including those held in closed session or online. After debate, the Senate voted against the amendment, with eight in favor and nine against. 

According to Chiriboga and student body vice president Kiara Ortiz ’24, the Senate voted remotely to pass a revised version of the amendment the next day. After senators “deliberated independently,” 11 voted in favor and one voted against the revised amendment.

The vote came after The Dartmouth’s Editorial Board published a Verbum Ultimum on May 24 calling on DSG to eliminate closed session votes — pointing out that all Congressional roll call votes are on the public record. Chiriboga wrote on her Instagram story that the article prompted the proposed amendment. 

“I thought the Editorial Board had a wise suggestion about making the names of senators and their votes available in the public record when votes happen to occur in closed session,” Chiriboga wrote. “I will propose [that suggestion] as an amendment [as soon as possible].”

During the weekly meeting, Chiriboga began the discussion by comparing the proposal — which she said she is “in full support of” — to policies instituted by student governments at peer institutions, including other Ivy League schools and public universities. She cited the Yale College Council at Yale University as an example: the YCC publishes meeting attendance, meeting agendas, policy projects and how senators voted in public spreadsheets updated according to policy progress or when each policy vote is taken, she said. 

The initial proposed amendment required the results of roll call votes to be published but did not specify an exact method.

“The roll call of all votes, regardless of whether or not occurring in Closed Session or whether or not occurring remotely, listing the Senators voting and how they voted, shall be recorded and published to the student body at large for transparency,” it read.

Senators in support of the amendment said the proposal would foster increased transparency and accountability.

Town liaison Nicolás Macri ’24 said the “original purpose” of closed sessions was to allow for discussion, not “to have votes where people don’t know how we, [as] elected people, represent them.”

“None of us have to be in a position of authority — we chose to be involved and run for Senate,” he said. 

Chiriboga clarified that the Senate does not “intend” to hold closed sessions. However, they have occurred several times this year to discuss “private information” and often take place after the general student body has been given an opportunity to comment on an issue during public sessions. For example, after the pro-Palestinian protest on May 1, the Senate passed a public vote of no confidence in College President Sian Leah Beilock — ultimately vetoed by Chiriboga — during its weekly public meeting before moving to a closed session. During the closed session, the Senate re-voted 8 - 9 - 2 to fail the vote of no confidence, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth. 

Chiriboga said passing the amendment is “the morally right and democratic thing to do” to ensure undergraduate students are informed in “more consequential” situations. 

“There’s a segment of the student body [that] only tunes in to our actions in these moments of crisis,” she said. “We have to take it upon ourselves to let them know what we’re doing.”

Representative Rohan Menezes ’23 — who, unlike a senator, has no voting power — said many students have commented to him that DSG “[seems] to be very closed off.” By “being more public with how we vote,” the Senate could build confidence with the student body, he said. 

Other members of the Senate, however, voiced concerns about both the amendment itself and the amount of time given to discuss it.

Allen House senator Ikenna Nwafor ’27 said he would not feel “comfortable” voting during closed sessions if the results of those sessions were made public. He added that discussion about the amendment should be limited to “the people who it is going to affect,” or senators retaining their posts next year. He noted that the senators who will be graduating this year or were not reelected for the next academic year will not be impacted by the vote.

Allen House senator Daniel Cai ’26 said he believes pushing the vote to the fall term would “disregard a number of senators’ voices who will not be senators next year.” The Senate should “treat this meeting like any other,” he said.

North Park House senator and Student Body President-elect Chukwuka Odigbo ’25 said he believes it is “very important” for DSG to be “transparent and accountable.” He cited open office hours and senators’ willingness to communicate with their constituents through email as examples of the Senate’s current methods of transparency. However, Odigbo said he believes there are “risks that are inherent” to the amendment — such as “doxxing” — because the College is “different” in comparison to universities with student governments that have implemented the public roll call reporting system. 

“If I’m in Boston and I’m at Harvard and I vote ‘no’ on something and everybody on campus [asks], ‘Why did you vote on this?’, I have a path … away,” Odigbo said. “Hanover is very secluded; Dartmouth is very ‘into.’”

School House senator Roger Friedlander ’27 said he did not feel like he had “enough information” and wanted to continue to “deliberate” about the amendment. However, he said each senator should “stand by [their] conviction as a leader” and “should not be afraid” to voice their opinions. 

In response to some senators’ hesitation to vote on the amendment at the meeting — which was DSG’s final public weekly meeting of the term — Odigbo said he would “commit” to organizing a committee of senators who will be serving in the fall term to work on “passing [the amendment] at the end of the second meeting of the fall term.”

Chiriboga proposed a vote on the amendment “as it is” but said discussion on the “next course of action” could continue if the amendment is “voted down.” The vote failed 8 - 9 with no abstentions. 

South House senator Ian McKenna ’27 said after the vote that he believed the amendment would pass if there were emergency provisions for “extreme examples,” such as a clause that would keep the roll call private if a third of the senators say they “are not comfortable” sharing their votes publicly.

In a follow-up statement to The Dartmouth on May 27, Chiriboga wrote that the Senate voted 11 - 1 - 0 in a GroupMe chat that DSG must report the roll call of closed session and remote votes to the student body “during the next in-person Senate meeting” and ensure that the roll call of all votes is “securely digitally available to all undergraduate students.”

The public reporting rule has several exceptions, including if more than one-third of senators express “legitimate safety concerns arising from the publication of the roll call” or if the student body president determines that “legitimate safety concerns” would arise from the publication of the roll call, though the latter may be overridden if two-thirds of senators vote in support of doing so. The amendment also clarified the definition of “legitimate safety concerns,” stating that “unpopularity or other forms of legal political disagreement do not constitute legitimate safety concerns, and any Senator is always free to share how they individually voted.”