SGA passes bill to
eliminate repeat of last year's marathon elections
April 8, 2002
By Scott Goldstein
Hours before the
2002 SGA election season opened Wednesday at midnight, the current
SGA passed a bill to eliminate the possibility of a runoff election
for executive positions, beginning next year.
The new method,
instant-runoff voting, gives voters the opportunity to rank
candidates in preferential order. If no candidate gets more than 50
percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-choice
votes is eliminated.
The ballots with the eliminated candidate as
the first choice are reprocessed to the next-choice selection. The
process would continue until a winner emerges with a majority vote.
Eric Swalwell, governmental affairs committee chairman, wrote the
bill and first introduced it to the full legislature nearly two
months ago. Since then it has been evaluated and approved by
constitution and by-laws committee, and the elections committee and
Mary Ann Granger, associate director for the office of the
Swalwell said he will work with Granger to develop
online computer software that would be used for the elections,
rather than purchasing expensive software from an outside company.
"I'm excited [about the bill passing]," Swalwell said. "It's the
result of a lot of hard work and strong effort of educating
Under current Student Government Association guidelines,
executive candidates need 40 percent of the vote to win, making it
especially difficult to declare a winner when more than two
candidates run for office. If no candidate reaches the 40-percent
mark, the top two vote-getters are entered in a runoff election one
Eric Olson, deputy director for the Center for Voting
and Democracy and a College Park city councilman, advised Swalwell
throughout the process. Olson campaigns across the country for
"[IRV] is an efficient system and it will
help voters to really express their preferences," Olson said. "I
think it will help with voter turnout because you don't need to have
a second runoff election where turnout drops."
Swalwell has also
said in the past that IRV helps candidates outside major parties.
"IRV levels the playing field for third-party challengers,"
Swalwell wrote in a column in the Feb. 12 Diamondback. "Because of a
ranking system, voters will no longer feel their vote is wasted if
they vote third party or independent."
Other schools currently
using the instant-runoff elections include The University of
California at Berkeley, California Institute of Technology,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard, Stanford and
Johns Hopkins universities.
Voters in San Francisco also approved
implementation of IRV in a March 5 referendum.
"Maryland is now on
the cutting edge for democracy reforms," Olson said. "It's great
that [the SGA] had the presence of mind to join a number of other
universities using the election system."