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Judiciary rules DSG election procedures unconstitutional

The change will not affect the current elections

<p>The Duke Student Government Judiciary met to hear a petition from junior Erin Taylor Tuesday evening.&nbsp;</p>

The Duke Student Government Judiciary met to hear a petition from junior Erin Taylor Tuesday evening. 

The Duke Student Government Judiciary ruled that the DSG's voting procedures are unconstitutional Tuesday night.

However, they will remain in place for the current president and executive vice president elections this week. Junior Erin Taylor filed a petition against Attorney General Sabriyya Pate, who administers the elections, alleging that being required to rank all three DSG Presidential candidates infringed on her free speech by making speech compulsory. Pate, a sophomore, was joined in her defense by Executive Vice President Ilana Weisman, a senior. Senior Dana Raphael, former chief justice of the Judiciary, acted as advocate for Taylor.

"[Taylor] wanted to express support for one candidate and the other two candidates she had no interest in supporting ideologically, and felt that being compelled to vote for them through a ranking system was compelling her to speak in a way that is unconstitutional,” Raphael said.

The requirement to rank all candidates is a recent change. Pate said that it occurred due a decision made by CollegiateLink—the system that operates the voting process—and one that she “had no discretion over." In fact, she said that she was not arguing that the change does not infringe upon free speech, but that CollegiateLink is the only feasible way they have found to be able to run an election.

“I'm not making the stance whether this constitutes free speech,” Pate said. “In fact personally, I would say, I may have something to agree with [the petitioner]. I'm just making the argument that this is only system that we have to run our elections.”

Weisman added that CollegiateLink was the most accessible method of voting because it allows for the verification of voters. She also said that DSG complied with CollegiateLink’s decision, given the constraints of time and accessibility and that “student body is largely capable of making an informed choice” about all candidates. 

“While we have great sympathy for and understand DSG's concern about administrative convenience in administering these elections, administrative convenience has never been a valid excuse to obliterate fundamental rights,” Raphael said. “[Instant-runoff voting] doesn't actually require to rank all candidates for the system itself to function.”

Pate said that in the past, students have been allowed to rank only the candidates that they favored. Last year, sophomore Jackson Dellinger, a presidential candidate, along with sophomore Kushal Kadakia, a candidate for executive vice president, and senior John Guarco, former executive vice president, introduced legislation that would change the election by-laws to allow for partial ranking of candidates. This year's election by-laws did not include the partial ranking provision.

“Of course I'm a fan of partial IRV; I wrote the legislation for the switch to that system,” Dellinger wrote to The Chronicle. “You shouldn't have to rank dozens of candidates if you don't want or don't care to do so, but you should be able to rank as many as you like if you have strong preferences—thus, partial IRV.”

Originally, Taylor's petition called for a nullification of the current election, said junior Dev Dabke, chief justice of the DSG Judiciary. However, the petitioner modified her requested at the beginning so that any change would only affect future elections. 

In its decision, the Judiciary noted that they "believe the voting system as currently implemented is unconstitutional." They will release an full opinion at a later date.

Editor's note: The Chronicle took a video recording of part of the hearing, embedded below. During the hearing, Weisman indicated that she had testimony that she did not wish to be recorded regarding companies contacted to operate voting in DSG elections. Members of the judiciary subsequently voted to end the recording. The Chronicle expressed its displeasure with this decision and clarified that the hearing was open to the public and thus on the record. 


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