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What happens in a closed senate meeting

| Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Given the events of this year’s student body election, closed senate meetings have become a controversial issue. A few people asked for our perspective and, for those interested, we feel it would be appropriate to share our experiences with Judicial Council hearings. This is what happened in last year’s senate hearing regarding the now meme-infamous 7 percent vote reduction.

Background: A closed senate hearing occurs during election cycles when a presidential ticket is accused of misconduct. The election committee, after hearing a statement from the accuser and the accused ticket, in addition to weighing all evidence, levies a punishment. If a ticket appeals this hearing (which is the only protest possible), a closed senate meeting is held. The outcome of this senate meeting can only be one of two options: one, the senate recommends that the election committee reconsider their penalty and two, the election committee’s original decision stands.

Here’s what happened to us: We posted a boosted/paid Facebook post before pre-approving it with Judicial Council. The content of the post was completely permissible; it was a picture of our ticket with a puppy and our campaign information. There was nothing controversial about it in any regard. We can say with 100 percent certainty that the post would have been approved by Judicial Council. That said, we did break the rule regarding pre-approval of spending on a Facebook post (at no point did we overspend our campaign spending limit), and we take full accountability for our actions. We were just shocked that the election committee arbitrarily decided to hand down the unprecedented punishment of a 7 percent vote reduction. Other penalties are allowed. For fairness’ sake, the penalty should match the offense. Precedent from previous elections was completely ignored. Previous presidential campaigns had seen campaign overspending and a music video which had a very mild insult directed at another ticket. Neither of these resulted in a penalty of vote reduction (again we failed to pre-approve an uncontroversial Facebook post). The precedent mentioned was that a previous Freshman Class Council election had seen a similar incident with a 10 percent reduction of votes, so the election committee was being generous with us. Our personal case doesn’t matter because we lost the pre-penalty vote count fair and square. It is important because it could impact the outcome of future elections.

Here’s how a closed senate meeting works — I (Rohit) will give the chronological timeline of our hearing with our details, but the format would be the same for all closed senate hearings regarding campaign issues:

1. We file an appeal of our unprecedented 7 percent reduction in votes. Someone else also appealed our punishment as well (more on that later).

2. The senate is informed that they have an emergency meeting within 24 hours.

3. When the time of the meeting is set (in our case, the evening after we filed the appeal), we (the ticket) were informed of the senate hearing. We were given strict instructions regarding the time and the exact direction and entrance from which to approach LaFortune Student Center.

4. At the appointed time, my team and I approached in the instructed manner and were escorted to a waiting room (not where senate is held) with the windows covered. All the window coverings are done in the name of protecting the identity of the accuser.

5. The senate convenes for a closed door meeting. I wasn’t in the room, but I understand that Judicial Council gives them a brief on why exactly they are convened, the punishment, etc.

6. The appealing ticket elects one representative to give a five-minute (timed to the second) pitch to the senate as to why they should hear the appeal and open a formal hearing. I gave the pitch for my ticket.

7. I was led into the room, gave my exactly five-minute pitch on why the punishment was unjust and was escorted back to the waiting room. This took place about a year ago, but I believe this was about 40 minutes into the whole hearing.

8. Point of interest: Since any student can technically appeal a decision, I was informed that someone else had appealed our punishment. Later on, I learned that they had appealed for it to be made worse. How this person knew the details of our rules infraction or why they wanted to punish us more severely remains a mystery to me. I don’t even know with certainty who this person was.

9. The senate rejected his/her five-minute pitch.

10. The senate accepted my five-minute pitch.

11. At this point we (my team of five, including myself) were led back into senate for the true hearing. This ended up lasting three hours and involved a Judicial Council representative and us presenting both sides of the case. The majority of the time was spent with senators asking questions and follow-up questions. There was some confusion on all sides since no student (that I’m aware of) in the room had experience with the situation.

12. After every possible question had been asked and everyone in the room had a thorough understanding of the entire situation, the senate agreed that the ruling was inappropriate. They were only allowed to send an official note to the election committee to reconsider the punishment.

13. The senate meeting ended.

14. The election committee decided to reduce the punishment by a mere 2 percent. They reached this decision through internal discussion. There is no further appeal process, and we had to accept the 5 percent hit. No reasoning or methodology was made for the 2 percent reduction.

15. This entire process took place after voting ended. Judicial Council had the voting results before the appeal, so the whole process was done with Judicial Council knowing that no result of the appeal would change the outcome of the election.

This should not be misconstrued as an attack on anyone. All parties involved followed the rules set forth by the constitution. The main points are:

1. The election committee has no known methodology for their vote reductions, which can seriously impact an election. They can arbitrarily make decisions with no real check on their power (an entire four-hour senate hearing can only recommend that they reconsider). In our case, past precedent was ignored. If our case was precedent for this year’s penalties (as suggested by the Observer article from Monday), by what system or metric were this year’s campaign violations 3 percent and 5 percent worse than not pre-approving a boosted Facebook post?

2. In any election, vote reduction is a serious penalty which disenfranchises voters and should be reserved for misconduct which is objectively serious. (We are not making any claims about this election’s rulings, since we are not fully knowledgeable of their unique situations.)

3. This process should not be so time-consuming, secretive and full of red tape. We need to keep things in perspective.

We would be happy to further discuss or elaborate on anything in this piece. Please reach out at [email protected] or [email protected]

Rohit Fonseca


Daniela Narimatsu


March 5


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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