Choice voting is the choice

By Carla Keppler
Published April 11th 2008 in The Daily Iowan
The 2008 student-election season brought on a successful round of instant-runoff voting for universities across the country, including the highest voter turnout in UI history.

This system, also called choice voting, allows students to rank slates by preference rather than voting only for a single party. If no ticket receives a majority of first-round votes, the instant runoff is triggered. Each round, the slate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters' second-choice votes are distributed among the remaining candidates. This process continues eliminating the weakest candidates until one party earns more than 50 percent of votes.

While more than half of U.S. News & World Report's 30 top-rated schools now use instant-runoff voting in student elections, the UI is the state's only regent university to do so.

The UI Student Government used instant-runoff voting in 2006 but switched back to plurality voting in 2007. This year, the Student Elections Board decided to use the instant-runoff method for the second time, a decision supported by university leaders because they said it has a heightened level of fairness.

"In the end, everybody's vote counts because you rank your choices," UISG President Maison Bleam said. "Even if your No. 1 vote doesn't get it, your vote doesn't get disintegrated."

Though Bleam said choice voting is the most efficient method of voting the UI has used, the system has not gone without consequence. He said choice voting confuses students and tends to be more expensive than plurality voting.

Former UISG President Barrett Anderson also supports use of choice voting.

"Personal preference is better noted because the winner has a clear majority straight out," he said.

Anderson also said elected officials gain a greater sense of student support when garnering over half of votes.

Student governments at the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University stick with plurality voting in elections, however, because of past success and a low number of running tickets.

Jennifer Younie of UNI's student government said that school has never used choice voting because of the success plurality voting has had in past student elections.

UNI also saw a record-setting number of student voters this year.

Brian Phillips, the president of ISU's student government, said that instant-runoff voting is unnecessary at his university, where typically no more than two tickets run.

"I think instant-runoff is effective if you've got a significant number of slates," he said. "But here at Iowa State, it's a little bit different."

Phillips said ISU received its third-highest voter turnout in six years in its last election.

While some suggest that choice voting led to the record number of students voting nationally, UI student leaders said turnout had more to do with campaigning.

"I don't think there's a direct correlation [between voting method and voter turnout]," Bleam said. "You can have any form of voting you want, but it's not going to encourage people to vote. I think turnout is based on individual campaigning and marketing."

Anderson also cited this year's get-out-the-vote effort as a reason for the turnout but said coincidence is as good an explanation as any.

E-mail DI reporter Carla Keppler at:
carla-keppler@uiowa.edu