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Davis Enterprise

UCD Students get first look at 'choice voting'
By Sharon Stello
November 11, 2003

UC Davis is gearing up this week for its first election using a "choice voting" system, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference and avoids runoff elections.

Students approved the new voting system in February, with 67 percent voting in favor. Mary Ball, chairwoman of the Associated Students of UCD Elections Committee, said a test run went well last week and the new system is ready for voters to use.

"So far, everything looks good," Ball said. "And we're expecting good voter turnout."

This week's election includes 16 candidates running for six seats on the Student Senate and five constitutional amendments. Polls open at 8 a.m. Wednesday and close at 4 a.m. Friday. Voting will be conducted online as it has been done for years at UCD.

Under the new system, students may click on each candidate's photo to read his or her statement and then vote by ranking as many or as few of the candidates as desired.

In Senate elections, a candidate must receive one more than one-seventh of the votes to be elected. If no one receives enough votes to win, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated from the race and those ballots are recounted, looking at each voter's second choice candidate. When someone is elected, his or her excess votes are transferred to each voter's next choice. This process continues until six candidates are elected.

Elections for ASUCD president and vice president work the same way, but a candidate must garner one more than half of the votes to win each office.

Chris Jerdonek and Sonny Mohammadzadeh, graduate students in mathematics and both members of the Davis College Green Party, co-authored the constitutional amendment for choice voting.

With the help of about 25 volunteers, they collected more than 1,500 signatures needed to place the amendment on the ballot and campaigned to educate voters about the proposal. Jerdonek said it's rewarding to see their work paying off.

"It's going to be nice to see the fruits of our labor," Jerdonek said.

Jerdonek and Mohammadzadeh said they believe choice voting will better represent voters. With a traditional voting system, they said, candidates running as a slate typically win all the available seats.

"The outcome of the Senate elections were very skewed and a lot of students weren't being represented," Jerdonek said.

Mohammadzadeh said choice voting will minimize the number of wasted votes.

"It really just comes down to the mathematics of it all," Mohammadzadeh said. "Your vote has more power this way."

In a winner-takes-all voting system, "half of the votes aren't doing anything," Mohammadzadeh said.

Jerdonek and Mohammadzadeh said they would like to see choice voting in place everywhere.

"I think it's catching on more and more," Mohammadzadeh said. "But I think the road to getting proportional representation on a national level is very far away."

"Locally is the thing we can change first," Jerdonek said.

Countries such as Sweden, Scotland, Ireland and Australia use choice voting. Some American cities also have implemented the alternative system. The school board and City Council in Cambridge, Mass., as well as the school board in New York City use choice voting. The Utah Republican Party uses choice voting to nominate congressional candidates and Louisiana uses instant runoff voting for overseas ballots to reduce turn-around time in case of runoff elections.

UC Berkeley, UCLA and Stanford University, MIT and Harvard use choice voting. UC San Diego also recently adopted this method.

"Smart kids go to these schools," Jerdonek said.

Steven Hill, a senior analyst at the Center for Voting and Democracy, was the campaign manager of Proposition A in San Francisco, the historic campaign that resulted in the adoption of instant runoff voting to elect local government officials there. The system is expected to be used starting in 2004.

Hill said choice voting "makes sure the winner is the one preferred by the most voters."

Under traditional voting systems, he said, candidates representing the majority of voters may not be elected.

For example, he said, if there are three liberal candidates and one conservative running for office in a district where the majority of voters are liberal, the conservative candidate could win if voters don't agree on which liberal candidate they like best. But, a single liberal candidate could sweep the election.

In elections where there are several seats to be filled, the majority group will always outvote the minority groups for all the seats.

However, he said, choice voting allows each group to have its share of seats.

"You get representation in proportion to your voting strengths," Hill said.

Hill said legislation to implement instant runoff voting has been introduced in 20 states. Choice voting also appears to be gaining popularity at universities.

Hill said when young people hear about choice voting, they like the idea of a voting system that frees them from being bound to political parties.

"They like the way these systems liberate them to vote for the candidates they like," Hill said. "It's one of those things where the more you hear about it, the more you like it."

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