Influential Secret Society Blamed For Problems On Campus Dodges Transparency Push

Univ. of Alabama students gather on the steps of the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library to prepare for a march on the Rose Administr
Univ. of Alabama students gather on the steps of the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library to prepare for a march on the Rose Administration Building in protest of the university's segregated sorority system in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. About 400 students and faculty marched across the campus to oppose racial segregation among its Greek-letter social organizations. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

The University of Alabama student government voted down a proposal last week to establish political parties, which could have forced a well-known secret society, blamed for many social ills on campus, to go public.

In a 21-9 vote on March 26, the Student Government Association Senate shot down a resolution that called for allowing students to set up political parties for on-campus elections. Currently, UA rules forbid official political parties. However, an underground society called "The Machine" is widely known to pick and endorse candidates and allegedly intimidates and harasses its opponents.

According to the United Alabama Project, a student group that came up with the proposal, all but one of the senators who voted against the resolution were backed by the Machine. None of them spoke publicly in opposition to the resolution during the senate meetings.

"I wish I could say it was unique but it wasn't," said Ellie Friedman, a senator from the law school who voted in favor of the legislation. "A lot of pieces of legislation that are harmful or somewhat threatening to the Machine, you can tell it's going to fail but you bring it up anyway."

The resolution would have recognized and endorsed the UAP proposal, and would have recommended the SGA Elections Board move to implement it in the official rules for student campaigns. The goal of the resolution was to make the Machine go public as an on-campus political party rather than ban the group outright.

"I think the general idea of the proposal was to try to enforce a political party system because it's hard to dismantle an entire entity like the Machine," said Lakeisha Skinner, an undergraduate senator who authored the proposal. "We thought it'd be more fair and democratic to actually have a party system, sort of like the national government. I feel like it would give [the Machine] more transparency and accountability."

The Machine has existed for roughly a century, and is comprised of members from select fraternities and sororities. The group directs its members, and by extension their fellow fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, to vote for candidates of their choosing. The Machine has even been known to influence local political elections, according to The New York Times.

Students have accused the Machine of being a major reason why UA sororities were still excluding black women from joining in 2013, as well as for acting as a roadblock in subsequent attempts by other SGA representatives to push the Greek system toward integration in 2014.

This month, UA junior Elliot Spillers won the election to become SGA president as an independent, or non-Machine endorsed, candidate -- the first to do so since 1986.

"Getting people to admit the Machine exists isn't necessarily the problem," said Matthew Bailey, another senator from the law school who supported the measure to establish parties. "The problem is getting an official recognition of it as an organization."

Madelyn Dukes, a 2014 UA graduate who was involved in past campus elections, said she was harassed when she stopped a student affiliated with the Machine from harassing an openly gay independent candidate one year ago. Dukes reported the woman to the university for yelling at the candidate, "Nobody wanted to vote for a faggot anyway, especially when he didn't have any morals."

Dukes said someone posted her phone number on Craigslist and said she was a prostitute, which led to a barrage of harassing calls. That kind of intimidation has prevented students from getting involved in the campus political process, Dukes said.

"This is the liberal university in the state, and we're teaching students not to vote," Dukes, who's now a Faulkner University law student, said. "And if you think that doesn't flow into the political landscape, it's being extremely naive. There's a reason we're in bad shape in Alabama."

The Huffington Post reached out all the students who voted against the resolution, but none were willing to comment on the record.