With Senate elections Monday, Duke Student Government is hoping that this Fall’s hotly contested ballot is a promising sign of greater interest in DSG’s senatorial seats.
In recent years, DSG has routinely fallen short of its goal of having 32 popularly elected representatives in the 40-member Senate, and last year’s elections were no exception, junior Gregory Morrison, DSG executive vice president, wrote in an e-mail. Following the elections last Spring, only half of the 24 available Senate seats were filled. This is unfortunate for the democratic process at Duke, Morrison said, considering that even if all eight of the freshman seats are elected this Fall, only half of the DSG senators will have been elected by students.
“The Executive Board in the Spring saw who was elected and how many had to be appointed, and we thought that that number [undermined] the legitimacy of our democracy. We then made a concerted effort to find candidates,” Morrison said.
Over the summer, DSG by-laws were amended to accommodate for special elections, including the race between two candidates for special secretary for the Young Trustee process, which will coincide with the freshman elections this week. For the first time in Fall election history, there will be 19 Senate seats up for popular vote Monday, including some of the unfilled positions left vacant last Spring, Morrison noted in an e-mail.
In the past, DSG has faced difficulty in recruiting upperclassmen to run for the Senate, many of whom are often dedicated to other groups on and off campus, Morrison said.
Ben Bergmann, a junior and senatorial candidate, said juniors and seniors tend to be invested in their existing commitments. Bergmann himself already serves as president of Duke Democrats.
“Students tend to dismiss what DSG does and view it as a lobbying organization,” he said. “People who care about a lot of issues are often involved in a lot of other things.”
But Gordon Wilson, a freshman also running for the Senate, said upperclassmen disinterest in DSG may result from more than just involvement in other activities.
“From what I’ve heard from upperclassmen, many feel that DSG is not an effective vehicle for change,” Wilson said. “Many Duke students feel disaffected from DSG.”
There have, however, been promising signs that students are taking a greater interest in DSG and the Senate election process, Morrison said. With the special elections for upperclassmen seats designated to occur along with the freshman elections, a total of 44 candidates will be running for 16 seats. This year’s freshman, sophomore and junior classes will have full eight-person delegations of popularly elected senators, meaning 29 of a possible 32 senatorial seats will have been filled democratically.
“My impression from looking at this list is that the folks who are running in the junior or senior class have not been senators or in DSG yet,” said Morrison. “We have a lot of first-time senators, which means that there will be a lot of fresh voices.”
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, and this Fall DSG hopes for more than just significant voter turnout from freshmen.
“I really hope that students’ faith in DSG will grow in the future,” said Wilson. “There is great potential for positive change by DSG for the school at large.”
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