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Utah Statesman

Campuses implement changes in elections
By Emilie Holmes
April 23, 2003

A voting reform system, called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), is spreading to campuses across the nation, the Center for Voting and Democracy announced in early April.

The center, which is based in Takoma Park, Md., is a nonprofit, non-partisan research organization for voter education, according to its student outreach coordinator, John Russell.

With IRV, voters rank candidates in order of choice, such as first, second, third and fourth if there are four candidates. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, which is often the case when there are numerous candidates, Russell said, the last-place candidate is eliminated. The ballots are recounted, but this time, each ballot cast for the defeated candidate counts for its next-choice candidate. The process of elimination continues, Russell said, until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.

Russell said he knows of 19 universities to which the IRV system has spread. San Francisco, he said, is the first U.S. city to adopt IRV in its city government elections.

IRV is especially applicable to student elections because of the number of candidates, he said.

"At a university, student government is not bound by a two-party system," Russell said.

Therefore, many more candidates are in a university election than a state or national election, he said.

Utah State University has not adopted this new system, and so far, there are no plans to do so. Associated Students of USU adviser Tiffany Evans said she hadn't heard of IRV.

Evans said she'd be interested in looking into it, but so far doesn't like how it sounds. She said she thought university elections should be as close to the "real world" as possible, since college students will be moving into that world soon.

Duke Di Stefano, recently sworn in ASUSU president for the 2003-04 school year, also said he hadn't heard of IRV but would be interested in looking at information for it.

"Changes can always be made," he said.

Di Stefano said Ashley Stolworthy, new ASUSU Public Relations vice president, has already started looking at reforming election laws, but not in the direction of an IRV system.

Stolworthy was unavailable for comment.

Camey Hatch, this school year's ASUSU Public Relations VP, said she received an e-mail about IRV, but since elections were already in progress, she disregarded it for this year. She said the people who sent the e-mail said they would send future information about IRV, but she hasn't seen any yet.

"The problem with IRV is that we really try to run elections based off of state election rules," Hatch said. "But, it would be worth a future look to see if it would be a benefit for elections."

Russell said IRV was first initiated in Australia in 1918. Since then, he said, it has been used sporadically around the world and has appeared in the United States only recently.

"It's been flourishing on college campuses for the last five years," he said. "Word is getting out."

One of the benefits of IRV, Russell said, is that it increases voter turnout at elections. Since students only have to vote once, they are more likely to get online and vote or go to a polling booth, he said.

"It's hard to get young people out to vote," he said.

IRV also decreases the amount of money spent on campaigns, Russell said, because candidates don't have to spend money campaigning before both a primary and a final election.

Evans said cost at USU is not a problem, though.

The university limits the amount of money that can be spent on one campaign ($400), and that includes both the primary campaign and final, she said.

"At universities like the [University of Utah], the costs are outrageous," Evans said. "We've done a good job at keeping costs at a reasonable amount."

Students running for president and vice president at the U are limited to $1,500 for the entire election, according to the Associated Students of the University of Utah Web site, www.asuu.utah.edu.

Di Stefano said there probably isn't a need to improve campaigns at USU in terms of money spent by candidates.

He said he likes the cap the university puts on campaigns.

Russell said any concern about IRV being too complicated is unwarranted.

"It's simple," he said. "The students just rank the candidates in order of their preference."

The computer takes care of the rest, he said.

Russell said the only reason people may opposed the IRV system is they don't like change.

"In America, people are accustomed to a list and picking their favorite," he said. "Making a change is difficult for some."

The Center for Voting and Democracy sponsors a Web site, www.fairvote.org/irv/faq.htm, that answers questions about the IRV system.

The site said many places around the world use IRV, including Ireland, Australia, London and San Francisco.

In Utah, according to the site, Republicans use IRV to nominate congressional nominees at their state convention.

According to a press release from the Center for Voting and Democracy, universities such as MIT, Harvard and Princeton have used IRV for years, while other schools, like Duke, Whitman, and William and Mary, have recently adopted it.

The system has been most recently approved at the University of California San Diego.

IRV legislation has been introduced in 20 states, according to the release.

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______________________________________________________________________
The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        info@fairvote.org