Student Senate violates law with secret ballots

Jen Baron

The Associated Student Senate, confronted with accusations of violating state law by voting with secret ballots, plans to re-vote on the 15 candidates running for senate positions.

“I take full responsibility for this violation of the Brown Act,” said Dr. Ben Partee, this year’s new advisor to the senate. “This was not a decision made by the students.”

For two weeks the senate has been interviewing candidates to fill the 12 vacant parliamentary seats. On Sept. 11, the senate’s votes were marked on anonymous pieces of paper and turned in. On Sept. 18, the votes anonymously again, but folded before turned in, enhancing the now repeated illegal voting process.

On the Sept. 11 meeting, Ashleigh Brown, a Native American student and local activist, was denied appointment to the senate through the use of secret ballots. The senate’s reasoning behind her denial was not publicly addressed, and the Brown Act exists to prevent that lack of accountability.

Brown returned to the following meeting Friday with four students and two counselors who spoke on her behalf. She cried as she watched people advocate in her favor for placement on the senate.

“My purpose is to be here for the students,” Brown said. “My whole goal and ambition in life is to make a change. We need representation. We need outgoing people.”

The Ralph M. Brown Act, which governs the conduct of all governmental agencies in California, states “no legislative body shall take action by secret ballot whether preliminary or final.”

“They are violating the law by doing this,” confirmed Jim Ewert, a prominent media lawyer from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

Ewert stressed that any kind of secret balloting-no matter how structured-violates the state’s open meeting law.

The Channels challenged the parliamentary procedure of the Associated Student Senate, bringing to its attention the violation of the Brown Act through voting with secret ballots.

Following Friday’s meeting, the senate’s president Emily Harrington said she was aware of the Brown Act provisions and the secrecy of the senate’s voting procedures.

“Yes, we are very aware. Dr. Partee and I have discussed this,” Harrington said. “The Brown Act and parliamentary procedure are open to interpretation.”

However, Partee researched the issue further and stated Monday he was in agreement with The Channels.

“We will rectify and rescind all the votes that have been made up to this point,” Partee said. “From this day forward we will adhere to the Brown Act.”

Harrington will be e-mailing senate candidates, informing them of the re-vote which will take place at 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 25, in Campus Center 223.