By Elise Waxenburg
Published April 21st 2005 in The Dartmouth (NH)
Noah Riner '06 won a tight five-way race for Student Body President Wednesday night, defeating Paul Heintz '06 by just over one percent of the vote after six rounds of instant runoffs. Juniors Brian Martin, Mats Lemberger and Todd Golden were eliminated in previous rounds.
Heintz's initial 44 vote lead over Riner -- an advantage that would have won him the race under plurality rules -- evaporated after the preferences of the other three candidates' supporters were redistributed.
Under this year's new instant runoff voting system, voters were asked to rank their choices for Student Body President in order of preference. Because no candidate received a majority of first-choice votes, last place candidates were eliminated in each round and their votes were redistributed to their supporters' successive choices until a majority was produced. The process took place until Riner came out ahead of Heintz by 29 votes in the seventh instant runoff round, posting 1,036 votes to Heintz's 1,007, which gave him 50.17 percent of the vote. Martin came in third, exiting the race with 464 votes.
President-elect Riner said he felt "humbled and honored," and that he was not surprised by the dramatically close outcome of the election.
"We knew it was going to be a horse race from the very beginning and it was," Riner said.
Heintz said he believed the results were typical of this type of voting system and that they accurately reflected the students' will.
"I think this result makes a lot of sense and I think instant runoff voting is a very good system because you get a consensus candidate, which is what we got," Heintz said.
"[I]t's good that it wasn't a matter of who spoiled whose votes but rather that the person who was favored by the most number of people won," Heintz said, "even though it's not such a great result for me."
Elections Planning and Advisory Committee sanctions that effectively silenced his campaign for the entire first day of voting may have affected the outcome of the race, Heintz said.
After a supporter sent a negative campaign message to Panarchy undergraduate society's BlitzMail list Monday, EPAC decided to freeze Heintz's campaign for the rest of the race. The elections committee subsequently restored his BlitzMail privileges effective Wednesday morning after a Tuesday afternoon hearing.
EPAC chair David Hankins '05 said, "I don't really know what the effect of the sanctions was, you know, it's tough to say," adding that he did not think Heintz was "crippled" by the temporary campaign sanction because he still came out on top in the first round of voting.
"The day of campaigning I lost because of the sanctions would've been pretty useful in my campaign," Heintz said. "However, I'm happy for Noah and if there's anything that this election proves it's that a significant number of students at Dartmouth are unhappy with the current leadership."
Heintz said he is confident that Riner will adequately address the needs of the students who ultimately did not vote for him.
"I think [Riner] has a responsibility now to keep that half of campus in mind and work to improve the way Student Assembly reaches out to the entire campus," Heintz said, "and I think he will."
Despite the fact that she acknowledges she would have lost last year's scandal-ridden race had runoffs been used, current Student Body President Julia Hildreth '05, who won by a single vote under simple plurality rules, was one of the biggest supporters of the new instant runoff system.
"The problem of the plurality is that, at that point you wonder, what if one of the candidates had dropped out? Who do students actually want to be their Student Body President?" Hildreth said.
By contrast, Hildreth said this year's voting system gives Riner a stronger mandate than the one she received in 2004. "It'll be valuable to Noah as he tries to start things up," Hildreth said. She added that she is "confident that all will be well in the Student Assembly" when she leaves.
Riner said he knew the race would put him head-to-head with Heintz in the last round.
"I think everybody got a say in this election and that's what was great about it. In the end everybody got to put their thoughts in," Riner said.
"I'm excited to work with Noah in terms of the transition because he does come into the job with some really significant SA experience and as someone who's sat on my exec board for the past term and a half," Hildreth said. "It'll provide some nice continuity."
Golden was the first candidate to be knocked out after write-ins were eliminated in the first three rounds, earning 277 votes in the fourth round.
After Golden came in fifth, the votes of his supporters were reallocated to their second choices, and in the next round, Lemberger was eliminated with 387 votes.
After both Golden's and Lemberger's votes were redistributed to their supporters' successive preferences, Heintz still led Riner by 15 votes. Finally, after Martin's votes were redistributed, Riner emerged as the majority winner.