Letter to the Editor: Why I Asked for a Secret Ballot


Taryn Sanders
Associated Students Off-Campus Senator

At the Senate meeting on 4/10-4/11, I asked the Senate to participate in a secret/written ballot regarding the final vote onA Resolution to Divest from Companies That Profit from Apartheid; and I would like the UCSB student body to know what led me to this decision. The answer is simple: safety. Normally, I would demand that Senate members not use the secret ballot method of voting because I believe that as student leaders, we are called to stand by the decisions that we make and be held accountable for the way we vote. This is precisely why I have never opposed a roll call vote nor have I ever even inquired about a secret ballot before.

However, this resolution in particular was not only met with opposition, but surrounding its discussion was contention, controversy, debate and conflict. In other controversial resolutions and bills that have come before the Senate, I have not called for a secret ballot because I did not feel that I was in any danger by tying my name to a vote. However, because this resolution was rooted in such a debated conflict that many students and community members feel personally connected to, the conversation veered from the typically noncontroversial subject of human rights to the extremely challenging idea that the Senate will completely marginalize a group of people with one vote. This created a lot of passionate responses from students and non-students alike; but, not all of these responses were positive and nonviolent forms of persuasion like we were hoping for. Some people chose intimidating forms of coercion and fear tactics to try to sway our decision. So, due to threats and accusations from students, community members and other non-university related sources as well as slanderous and untrue accusations on social media sites, I felt that not only was my personal and mental well-being being jeopardized, but my individual safety as well. Therefore, I called for a secret ballot.
Even though the ballot is secret, I still believe in transparency. Therefore, I want to share some of my thoughts on why I believe the resolution did not pass and why I think the dialogue surrounding the resolution as well as the language within the legislation led to its ultimate defeat. Though the resolution may not have intentionally called for this, interpretations of the resolution basically left Senate not with a choice of divest or don’t divest, but instead, with the impossible choice of Israel or Palestine. Instead of focusing on human rights, the conversation surrounding this resolution often veered into discussing the proper “side to choose” regarding the entire Israeli-Palestine conflict and became a pointing fingers, blame-game type of scenario; at times I felt that I had not been elected Off-Campus Senator, but instead, International Mediator. The point of this response is not to endorse one side or the other in this debate, but instead, to address process and the possible benefits of compromise. I think that some simple amendments could have been beneficial to the proponents of this resolution if the goal of its passing was in fact to condemn human rights violations, as the authors and sponsors have stated. However, the wording of the legislation made it difficult to focus on this resolution as a human rights issue rather than a choosing of sides because it included statements like “condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” Similarly, even the title of the resolution seemed to be an area of contention by using the word “Apartheid” instead of “Human Rights Violations” or something comparable. It is possible that if the language of the resolution was amended, it may have been able to draw more support and receive less criticism. I understood the intent of the resolution to be divestiture from companies that contributed to human rights violations within Palestine. However, due to the refusal to consider amendments to the resolution, the legislation was viewed by some as an Anti-Israeli piece of legislation rather than an Anti-Human Rights Violations piece of legislation. I want to be clear that I am not stating that I support human rights violations, nor Israel, nor Palestine; I am simply stating that I think making amendments to the resolution could have allowed it to be more neutral, and thus possibly better received, but still focused on the same issue with the same core principles. However, as written and as interpreted by students on both the pro and con sides of this resolution, it boiled down to the fact that either choice that a senator made, a yes or no vote, would ultimately disappoint a group on this campus and make students feel as though their voices do not matter. This is a choice I do not even wish upon my worst enemy; it is a disheartening and horrible position to be in.

However, I want to make it clear that having to disappoint students is not the basis of why I called the secret ballot. I would have been able to handle a backlash from the students because that is what I signed up for; however, I did not sign up to have my life and the lives of my colleagues threatened over a vote. Due to threatening statements made directly to the Senate and directly about this resolution, I did not feel safe. Even if there was not a major threat at the actual meeting, voting with a non-secret ballot method permanently ties a person to their vote, meaning that the decisions Senators make follow them past the meeting in which they made them. Now, because this is such a divisive issue and there are extremists on both sides, a non-secret ballot method of voting could endanger Senator’s lives because students and non-students alike would have access to this information; and as we’ve seen in other circumstances, some people could choose violent and harmful ways to use this information. So, in light of recent heartbreaking events around the country, such as Newton and Aurora, as well as threatening comments made about this vote, I felt as though the openness of voting did not supersede the need for safety for myself and my fellow Senators. I was also hoping that a secret-ballot would keep our senators honest and able to vote how they actually thought was best for this campus without worrying about voting on party lines, being slandered on social media or having friends, or the possible loss of friends, influence their vote; nor did I want the senators to be influenced by the possible after-voting safety consequences. Therefore, I asked for a secret ballot and was greeted with relief and/or understanding by my colleagues; I hope the students of UCSB can grant me that same respect.

Now, as for the result of the vote, I will not state whether I am in favor or not of how this vote turned out, but I will state that I hope this is not the end. I hope that the students involved in this important discussion do not simply walk away feeling like they’ve won or that they’ve lost. I hope that every student, instead, walks away feeling like this is just the beginning of healthy dialogue, cooperation and relationship mending between the pro and con sides of this issue. The beautiful thing about Senate is that new resolutions can always be drafted and just because an issue does not pass does not mean that the dialogue surrounding it was not significant and necessary. I truly wish that the students do not forget the passion and immense amount of work and effort they put into this issue, both pro and con. I also wish that this is a wake-up call to the rest of the campus that we do have people power and we can mobilize our bodies and our voices to fight for what we believe is right. I would love to see 200 students in every Senate meeting, demanding that we do our jobs and make positive change on this campus. I know this was a wake-up call for me and I hope the rest of the campus shares these sentiments. Who knows, maybe fighting student loan debt or increasing student wages, or getting more student representation on the UC Board of Regents is the next issue that will bring in 200+ students to public forum. It’s in the hands of the students now, all I can do is hope they hear the call and accept the challenge.