Benning pursues running despite DSG bylaw preventing write-ins
Senior Marcus Benning announced his intent to run as a write-in candidate for undergraduate Young Trustee Wednesday evening—under Duke Student Government bylaws, however, write-in candidates are not allowed.
Benning was one of 10 semifinalists for the position but was not chosen by the Young Trustee Nominating Committee as one of the three finalists. Benning announced his intention to run in a private meeting including students involved in Black Student Alliance, Asian Students Association, Mi Gente and Native American Student Alliance. After his intent to run as a write-in candidate was published on The Chronicle’s website Thursday morning, he was contacted individually by DSG Attorney General Syed Adil, a sophomore, and YTNC chair Katya Prosvirkina, a senior, and informed of the bylaw.
Benning said that he was not aware of the bylaw prohibiting write-in candidates before announcing his intent to run but noted that he plans to continue his campaign.
“I read through the bylaws in the days prior to the meeting—I missed that section, but I’m determined to run,” Benning said. “I’ll do what is necessary to run, which means that I’ll probably have to meet with the [DSG] Judiciary soon.”
Junior Nikolai Doytchinov, executive vice president of DSG, noted that although the bylaw is clear in its prohibition of write-in candidates, it would not be out of the question for the Judiciary to hear Benning’s case.
“If he has a technical reason that’s based on the constitution and bylaws—if he thinks that one of the bylaws is invalid—I think that is the type of case that should come to the Judiciary,” Doytchinov said. “But I think that if he simply finds it personally unfair or a less than ideal rule, that’s more of a political issue that should have been brought up through a separate process.”
Doytchinov noted that free speech provides Benning the ability to speak to voters and campaign despite the fact that he is not allowed as a candidate under the current bylaws.
Write-in candidates are addressed in Title III, Section 7 of the most recent version of the Young Trustee bylaw, which was adopted in November 2013 by the DSG Senate—“The election shall be conducted pursuant to the general rules and procedures of the Election By-Law and associated legislation, but no write-in candidates shall be admitted.”
Benning said the prohibition of write-in candidates could be considered a violation of students’ freedom of expression as described in the Student Bill of Rights.
The Young Trustee selection process became an election open to all undergraduate students in 2010, and originally there were not rules concerning write-in candidates. During the 2011 election, however, a write-in candidate—Brooke Kingsland, Trinity '11—drew considerable attention to the role of the YTNC in selecting the finalists. In November 2011, the DSG Senate amended the Young Trustee bylaw to prohibit write-in candidates.
“This is not like any other election,” then-DSG President Pete Schork, Trinity ’12, said at the time. “The position is recognized as such an important position, [and] there are a lot of qualities that don’t correlate to an open election. It’s important to think about this differently... there’s a reason we have a YTNC.”
The 14-person YTNC is tasked with reading all applications and interviewing the semifinalists in order to choose anywhere from two to five finalists. The undergraduate student body then votes to select the Young Trustee.
Prosvirkina noted that the logic behind having no more than five finalists is rooted in politics, saying that a large number of finalists could place a burden on the voters and result in lower voter turn-out.
She added that she feels the YTNC represents a wide range of student perspectives and puts considerable work into selecting the finalists. Allowing write-in candidates could create a scenario in which all rejected semifinalists decide to run regardless of the YTNC’s decision, she said.
“I’m disappointed that Marcus did not take another route,” Prosvirkina said, adding that Benning could have approached the YTNC directly.
She noted that the University Center Activities and Events has already made the ballot and there is not a space for write-in candidates.
Benning said he has received “an outpouring of support” since his announcement and feels that this is indicative of student discontent with the current Young Trustee selection process.
“Even if I am not allowed to run, I believe that declaring that I want to run—declaring that I’m not happy with the process, allowing these issues to be heard—draws attention to the process,” Benning said. “I encourage students to think twice."