Student Government is infamous for its partisanship, with allegations of unprofessionalism made against one party and allegations of corruption directed at the other, but I never expected things to become as tense as they did over this Summer A term. Between the cancellation of the original Summer Replacements’ confirmations and the controversy surrounding the expulsion of the Minority Party Leader, one might wonder why new senators insist on affiliating with either party when doing so would implicate them in these scandals.
I am an independent senator for District D. Not affiliating with a party comes with its challenges. Without representation in the Replacement and Agenda Committee, independent senators will have a harder time than party-affiliated senators in obtaining the information they need to make informed decisions. This proved essential, as throughout the Summer A term, the Senate was to confirm executive nominations to the Executive and Judicial branches. The committee has access to the nominees’ information and reserves seat for each party leader, so these leaders may relay the candidates’ information to the rest of their party. Independent senators must request this information instead, through a process that does not always deliver in time for the vote.
However, being independent senators means we have more freedom when it comes to making decisions that reflect our individual positions on an issue, rather than the position of a party. Unfortunately, with skipping debate becoming more common, those unique positions of ours do not get a chance to be heard except in how we vote. Since more things are being heard as a block rather than individually, not even our vote is representative of our beliefs because we may only vote one way for an entire group of items on the agenda.
This is the reality of every senator. I find it concerning most senators are willing to eliminate the deliberative functions of the Senate or simply refuse to use them. It implies most senators do not want to express their individual opinions. Such is problematic, as senators then cease to be considered individuals by their constituents since the only point of view being heard is that of the party. It is a shame to see the talented minds of both parties go unheard.
There are a few things that can be done to solve this problem. The Senate could require hearing things as a block be approved unanimously, so senators can vote however they please on individual items should they have an objection to the block. The Senate could guarantee some debate before being allowed to vote on skipping the rest of the debate, so at least some discussion can be had or so a Senator can give a dissenting opinion. Alternatively, the Senate could allow senators time at the end of a vote to make a brief statement on why they voted how they did.
I believe the main problem is the lack of diversity of opinion in the Senate, at least among those who do voice their opinions. Things may be summarized as either “Impact” or “Inspire,” and these positions might not be representative of some students. Senators are always free to become independents, but this rarely happens. When it does, it presents obstacles to their expression of ideas. The solution are third parties, which would not be subject to these obstacles and have been experimented with in the past. But there are currently none in the Senate. This is because voters would rather vote for the more well-established parties rather than risk wasting their vote on a losing third party candidate.
Third parties could be made possible if our elections were conducted with ranked-choice voting. Under this system, voters could cast a vote for the candidate that they prefer without fear of wasting their vote. This is because if their preferred candidate doesn’t win, their vote would be automatically transferred to their second, third and other most preferred candidates in the order that they indicated. The election of third-party candidates into the Student Senate would allow for the representation of students with different interests and ideas who are not always represented by the current two-party establishment. This would solve the underlying problem that is a lack of diversity of opinion in the Senate and could encourage senators of all parties to voice their individual opinions, ideas, and concerns in a way that does not currently happen, and vote to protect the deliberative functions of the Senate.
Alfredo Ortiz is a UF philosophy sophomore and an independent senator for District D.