Instant runoff suggested

    The ASUCSD Ad Hoc Voting Systems Task Force decided to recommend the adoption of instant runoff voting to the A.S. Council at its meeting on Feb. 28. The task force, after tallying the results of a mock election that polled students on Library Walk on Feb. 21 and Feb. 28, debated the merits of four voting systems: instant runoff, Condorcet, approval and plurality, the latter of which is currently in place. The task force will present its recommendation during the A.S. Council’s March 5 meeting.

    “”I hope A.S. will implement the recommendations,”” said Eleanor Roosevelt College Freshman Senator Max Harrington, who spearheaded the idea of a task force and served as its chair. “”I believe it will. Just practically, we have six senators on this task force, and it was a unanimous decision, so I think they’re going to seriously look at IRV and see that it’s better than plurality.””

    In instant runoff voting, voters rank their choices in order of preference, and if any candidate receives over 50 percent of the first choice votes, they are elected, as they would be under plurality voting as well. However, if they do not receive this majority, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and each ballot cast for that candidate counts for the second choice listed on that ballot. This process of elimination and recounting is repeated until one candidate receives over 50 percent. According to the Center for Voting and Democracy, this eliminates “”spoilers,”” enabling voters to vote more freely for third-party candidates in a bipartisan race without fear of helping their least favorite candidate. According to the CVD, this system generally increases voter turnout and promotes more positive campaigning.

    According to Harrington, however, there is criticism of instant runoff, particularly regarding its support by some major politicians.

    “”I think some people may say that this actually demonstrates how weak of a reform it is, because if the major parties don’t feel threatened enough by it and support it, then what will IRV do? Will it perpetuate our two-party system?”” Harrington said.

    However, he said he felt that this system still gives third parties a greater opportunity to grow and challenge major parties.

    Several members of the task force felt that the instant runoff system, if implemented, has the potential to change the outcome of A.S. elections. Elections in the past have produced officials who had received less than the majority of the vote; in last year’s race, for example, Jenn Brown was elected receiving less than 50 percent of votes cast.

    After learning about instant runoff voting from the Green Party’s advocacy of this system, Harrington had first proposed to form an instant runoff task force. However, the A.S. Council’s Jan. 9 approval of a task force asked that the members look at a variety of systems. The task force included an A.S. senator from each college. After starting out with nine voting systems under consideration, they narrowed the number down to four, discounting others due to their unsuitability of application to the UCSD campus.

    The mock elections polled over 100 students on Library Walk on their preference between five different academic departments in a scenario where one department was to be elected to set academic requirements for all students. Political science won by every voting system; the result, however, was not of any consideration to the task force. The polling was intended to familiarize students with the four systems by having them vote in the four different ways, with task force members answering any questions they had as they voted, and subsequently having the voters fill out a questionnaire asking how well they felt that each system represented them, whether they thought each was simple to understand, and which one they would choose. While plurality beat instant runoff in its assessment as simple, 98 percent to 74 percent, twice the number of voters chose instant runoff. Condorcet garnered only one vote, with 38 percent feeling it was simple.

    The results, according to John Muir College Junior Senator Ian McLean, were “”somewhat conclusive”” toward instant runoff, but demanded more discussion. Voters’ understanding of the systems particularly played a role in the debate of instant runoff versus Condorcet, with several members of the task force voicing their opinion that a system that was difficult to understand could alienate UCSD students from voting.

    “”The question is: Who’s going to care enough to understand Condorcet?”” said Thurgood Marshall College Director of Finance Billy Ikosipentarhos during the task force’s discussions.

    In a Condorcet system, voters rank their candidates exactly like in instant runoff. Though the outcomes between the two are most often identical, Condorcet uses a different counting system by which, instead of simulating a series of runoff elections, contests of pairs of candidates are simulated. If a candidate would win in a two-way contest with each individual candidate, that candidate wins; if not, the cycle is eventually broken by a set of schemes in which each candidate is measured up to each of the others, the explanation of which, according to the task force, was difficult to grasp. Condorcet tends to give preference to the candidate with the greater second-choice support.

    Others felt that Condorcet, which is seen by some voting analysts as the fairest system, might be too radical of a change for students from plurality voting, but could be looked into in the future.

    “”I would see IRV as a baby step toward eventually getting Condorcet,”” said Thurgood Marshall College Student Council Chairman Kevin Kelly. “”I think it might be good eventually, just not right now.””

    Approval voting, in which voters simply check each choice that they would be “”all right”” with having, voting for any number of candidates and giving them equal weight, was dismissed as not representing students’ opinions fairly enough, citing the potential for lending itself to name recognition rather than educated voting.

    No member of the task force spoke out in favor of keeping the current system of plurality, in which students vote for one candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins, thereby enabling a candidate to win with less than 50 percent of the votes.

    “”That’s the one that everybody comes in knowing, and the fact that 43 percent of those polled felt that it didn’t represent them was very telling,”” Kelly said.

    Instant runoff voting systems are used across the country, notably in California by the city of San Francisco but also by student governments at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, California Institute of Technology and most recently, UC Davis, which passed the new system in February.

    If passed, instant runoff voting would not take effect until next year, leaving the 2003 A.S. races under the plurality system.

    Harrington said that he hoped that this recommendation would not be viewed in a political way, with A.S. members looking to support it to help those with their own political views become elected.

    “”I hope this is not portrayed in any kind of reactionary way, because it’s not,”” Harrington said. “”All of us here — and many of us are freshmen who haven’t been present for past elections — are doing this entirely in an attempt to improve the election process, not to improve the chances of any of us or our friends or our ideological peers being elected.””

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