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The right to abstain

After attempting to abstain from voting on the referendum on the Feb. 15 ballot for Young Trustee, a simple e-mail I sent to the Board of Elections about what I thought was a simple online glitch turned into a 24-hour whirlwind of appeals, injunctions and testimonies to the Judiciary. With a ruling early yesterday in favor of DSG, I understand Judiciary’s rational: that the literal letter of the law that rules both DSG and the Board of Elections does not explicitly protect a vote to abstain. And while—in recent past—all elections have allowed students to abstain from portions of the ballot if they wish, this is not a right guaranteed by their bylaws.

But moving forward, I believe that the ability for a voter to make the deliberate political decision to abstain is fundamentally basic. After all, everyone that provided testimony last night, even the members of DSG and the Board of Elections, admitted that it was morally questionable to require a vote on the referendum, and that in hindsight abstention should have been a possible choice for students. I believe that it is the nuance and ambiguity of their bylaws—and lack of consideration of the implicit rights that have been solidified by past voting procedure—that is the only thing protecting the Board of Elections and upholding the referendum.

To have a truly free and democratic election in the future, abstention must be a political option available to students. I urge the leadership of Duke Student Government to include explicit guidelines in the constitution that will allow for students to be protected in the future. Furthermore, I hope that students will contact DSG members if they believe that they should have the right to abstain in the future, as they have been allowed to in the past. No student should ever be forced to vote, and I hope this kind of voting procedure will never again happen on Duke’s campus.

Christine Hall

Trinity ’11

Student manager of creative business and advertising for The Chronicle

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