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May 3, 2016

Three Weeks After Divestment Resolution Passes, Voting Record Still Unclear


For several key votes during last month’s divestment debate, vote totals were recorded but the votes of individual representatives were not. The Maroon’s attempt to poll representatives yielded different totals than what were reported the night of...

Courtesy of Adam Thorp

Three weeks later, it is unclear how members of College Council (CC) voted on crucial issues in last month’s divestment vote.

Representatives’ votes on amendments disassociating the resolution from the international BDS movement and asserting Israel’s right to exist were not captured on the record during the April 12 debate. Two attempts to re-poll members of CC over the last two weeks yielded different numbers than the totals from that night, indicating that at least one representative misreported votes.

The U of C Divest resolution called upon the University to divest its funds from companies supporters of the resolution said are complicit in Israeli human rights abuses in Palestine. The resolution passed 8–4–3 at the April 12 CC meeting. The votes on the two amendments offered during the debate were counted by hand, instead of the virtual program Poll Everywhere that CC sometimes uses to tally votes. Because of this, the votes of individual members on those amendments were not recorded.

According to CC Chair Eric Holmberg, votes are conducted and recorded using Poll Everywhere when he is able to prepare the vote beforehand. Because the two amendments were proposed during the course of the meeting, a poll had not been prepared on Poll Everywhere ahead of time, and Holmberg chose to conduct a hand vote to save time.

During the meeting following the vote, second-year representative Calvin Cottrell argued that the names of representatives should be attached to their votes on the two substantive amendments. First-year representative Qudsiyyah Shariyf proposed a motion during the meeting to create a virtual poll for CC members to recast their votes, in the same way as the week prior, and the numbers would be added to the meeting minutes on the condition that the results matched.

The next morning, Holmberg sent out a poll to the SG-CC listhost for a vote recount. The results of the ex post facto poll did not match the original numbers. Holmberg confirmed that the poll results will not be released, and said the discrepancy will not undo the passage of the resolution or affect the number of votes the amendments is recorded as having received.

“The vote counts from this poll did not match the vote counts from the April 12 meeting. No matter what, the votes made on the 12th would all remain the same. Nevertheless, transparency is of the utmost importance, so I am working with representatives on our course of action. We have been following the procedure set out by the entire Council as a whole, and we need to continue to do so moving forward,” Holmberg explained in an e-mail to The Maroon.

“The next step is for individual students to ask each of their representatives how they voted on the substantive amendments and why. CC members have already misrepresented original votes, so people should be following up with every member to see how they voted,” Cottrell said.

Over the last four days The Maroon reached out to every representative that participated in those amendment votes in an attempt to replicate that unreleased poll. In The Maroon’s poll each representative’s self-reported vote once again added up to then a different total than the actual vote the night of the divestment debate.

In response to The Maroon's poll, five representatives—Cottrell, Viola, second-year Preethi Raju, fourth-year Mark Sands, and first-year George Kitsios—said they voted for the amendment that would have affirmed the right of Jewish self-determination and the existence of the state of Israel—one more vote for the amendment than during the debate. Seven representatives—first-years Megha Bhattacharya, Shariyf, Salma Elkhaoudi; third-years Stephanie Greene and Peggy Xu; and fourth-year Clark Halpern—said they voted against the amendment, one more than actually did so. Five representatives abstained during the actual vote, but only three reported that they did so: second-year Cosmo Albrecht, third-year Katherine Shen, and fourth-year Holly Rapp.

The reported votes on the amendment eliminating references to the larger BDS movement from the resolution actually reversed the results from the night of the debate. Seven representatives said they supported the amendment and eight said they opposed it, though the representatives originally voted eight to seven to apply the amendment (the resolution did not pass with the amendment, and the unamended version of the resolution eventually passed). Elkhaoudi, Kitsios, Shariyf, Albrecht, Meng, Xu, Greene and Halpern reported that they opposed the second amendment; Bhattacharya, Cottrell, Raju, Shen, Viola, Sands, and Rapp said they supported it.

During the polling process, several candidates asked to explain their votes to The Maroon. The reasoning behind their decisions can be found here.

“I don’t know why the representatives failed to follow the procedure they established as a group. I am not a voting member and am therefore not involved in this situation,” Holmberg said.

Article II Section 11 of the General Assembly Bylaw reads, “Any and all minutes must reflect how each Assembly member voted in any and all votes taken, and all Assembly members must be listed by name.”

“Since we voted by hand, people’s names were not associated with votes. This brings up huge transparency issues from a College Council that has already shown difficulty with being open and accessible,” Cottrell wrote in an email.

Additional reporting by Adam Thorp.

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