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UC Reps Praise New Electronic Voting System

Representatives discuss legislation at an Undergraduate Council meeting in 2017.
Representatives discuss legislation at an Undergraduate Council meeting in 2017. By Kai R. McNamee
By Jonah S. Berger, Crimson Staff Writer

Two weeks after the Undergraduate Council transitioned to an anonymous voting system for most pieces of legislation, representatives say the change means they can more freely vote their conscience, even if it may lead to less transparency.

Under the new system, each representative votes for resolutions, motions, and amendments with an electronic clicker. While the electronic system used by the UC does allow for vote tracking, UC Secretary Jackson C. Walker ’21 said the votes of individual members of the Council will not be tracked.

The clickers will replace hand and voice votes, which comprised the primary voting methods for most legislation last year, according to Council Rules Committee Chair Wilfried J. Zibell ’21.

Roll-call voting can still be employed if motioned for by a Council member and agreed to by a one-fourth vote of the body, Zibell said. In addition, certain votes—including constitutional amendments and changes to bylaws—will use roll-call votes, per UC policy.

Representatives said they largely support the anonymous voting method compared to hand and voice votes because they feel reduced pressure to conform with the majority.

“I think that this new clicker voting system has made it even more comfortable for people to vote independently and to kind of think their own mind,” said Sruthi Palaniappan ’20, a Winthrop House Representative. “I have seen a few instances where maybe people are influenced by what they see around them in terms of hand votes.”

Some Council members acknowledged, though, that the new system may decrease the transparency of the UC as a whole.

“I think that it’s important to be responsible to our constituents, the people who voted for us,” Zibell said. “I would much prefer records were made public, and I think that taking votes you can be held accountable to is something that’s very important.”

Lowell House Representative Michael Scherr ’20 argued that floor debates before voting will allow observers to maintain a “pulse” on the Council and that the benefits of the anonymous system far outweigh the costs.

“It's not as if, if a representative feels strongly one way or the other, people won't know about it,” Scherr said. “It's more those people who were torn in between are now going to be empowered to vote where they want to vote.”

As secretary, Walker is responsible for deciding whether or not a piece of legislation has the requisite number of votes to pass. He said the electronic system will provide more precise vote totals and will prevent unnecessary counting errors. While individual members’ votes will not be tracked under the new system, the vote totals will remain publicly available on the UC website.

In an emailed statement, UC President Catherine L. Zhang ’19 defended the new voting system.

“Prior to using electronic voting, the only votes that would be placed on the public record were roll call votes,” Zhang wrote. “Electronic voting gives us the exact number of council members who vote "Aye,” "Nay,” and "Oye.”

“Making these numbers public is just one of the many initiatives we are doing to follow-through on our promise of transparency,” she added.

—Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

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