Instant runoff system needed for SGA elections

By Matt Dover
Published January 20th 2006 in The Crimson White - University of Alabama
How many times have you heard the expression "majority rules"? This idea is the basis of democracy, yet it doesn't apply at the University. There is no provision for a runoff in campus elections. Your SGA officers can be elected without the support of a majority of voters.

Not only would a runoff bring about more democratic elections, but it would also help fight voter apathy, a major problem on campus.

Here's why: Every year, independent and non-Machine greek students fight among themselves over who will be the non-Machine candidate in hopes of not splitting the non-Machine voter base.

Each election, the Machine candidate becomes the lone recipient of its nearly 2,500-voter bloc, leaving its opposition with a daunting task. A runoff system would give multiple non-Machine candidates the opportunity to run while not having to worry about splitting votes.

Now whether you agree with the Machine's practices or not, you have to admit that a runoff would be a more democratic method of electing our SGA officers. It would more ideas and more voters to campus politics. To ensure that the burden of the added costs of a second round of elections cannot be used as an argument, I propose the University implement a new system called instant runoff voting this year.

Instant runoff voting is not new. Recently, this innovative system has been used with great success in city elections in California. Instead of choosing only one candidate, voters rank their choices in order of preference, simultaneously casting their second choice. This is easily done by adding bubbles numbered "1," "2," "3," etc. beside each candidate's name, indicating your ordered preference.

If a runoff is necessary, voters do not return to the polls. This system ensures candidates who are favored by the majority of the voters are placed in office at no added cost.

In a hypothetical election with Candidate A, Candidate B and Candidate C, you support Candidate C. Although he has little chance of winning, you vote for him as your first choice. For your second choice, you bubble in the "2" next to Candidate B's name, since you prefer him to Candidate A. When the votes are tallied, it is revealed that Candidate A received 45 percent of the first-place votes, Candidate B received 40 percent and Candidate C received 15 percent.

Since no candidate received a majority of first-place votes, the election goes to a runoff between Candidate A and Candidate B. Every ballot is then checked to see which candidate is ordered higher, Candidate A or Candidate B. Turns out that most of the voters who placed Candidate C as the top choice placed Candidate B as second choice, just like you did, and the runoff goes to Candidate B, 52 percent to 48 percent.

If this election occurred under our current rules, one of two things would happen. Either the same three candidates would have run and Candidate A would have won, though he was the last choice for a majority of voters, or Candidate C would not have run at all, thinking he had little chance to win and would only hurt the chances of his second choice, Candidate B. Either way, the University and its students would lose.

The University must implement instant runoff voting to ensure a fair and democratic election and increase student participation. With two months until this year's election, there is no reason instant runoff voting should not be implemented immediately.

Matt Dover, a junior majoring in political science, is chairman of CapstonePAC, a student political action committee.