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University of Maryland Diamondback

SGA expects instant runoff in election
By Sam Hedenberg
April 15, 2003

As in past SGA campaigns, the golf carts, chalkings and free treats are all over the campus this year, but one major change voters will notice on their electronic ballots is intended to avoid costly and time-consuming runoff voting that plagued previous elections.

Instant runoff voting, a way to bypass a second runoff vote in the event that no candidate earns the required 40 percent of votes, was implemented on the first day of elections yesterday after current Student Government Association Vice President for Campus Affairs Eric Swalwell sponsored an SGA bill that passed last April that would save the SGA time and money in case of a runoff situation.

"Runoffs in general are inefficient," Swalwell said. "It costs money to run another election and obviously takes more time. With [IRV], all the voting takes place on one day."

With IRV, voters are asked to rank executive candidates in order of preference rather than vote for one. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is removed. After that, the ballots are reprocessed to the next choice selection, and the process is continued until a majority winner is found.

According to SGA guidelines, executive candidates must receive 40 percent of the vote to win the election. The mark becomes increasingly difficult for candidates to attain in elections with more than two candidates.

Once passed in the SGA, the idea was presented to Mary Ann Granger, associate director for the office of the registrar. Granger, along with other university employees, programmed this year's ballot on the university's Testudo website to implement IRV. Granger was unavailable for comment. Swalwell said third-party candidates also benefit from IRV.

"Third-party candidates don't have a strategic advantage over other candidates," he said. "But people no longer feel like they're wasting votes on third party candidates."

The unveiling of IRV could not have come at a better time, Swalwell said. With five parties in the running, he said it is unlikely any one party will gain a majority of the vote on first choice votes only.

Swalwell predicted the TANG and FLASH parties, who have similar platforms, will split much of the vote. In the event of an instant runoff, those voters who chose the candidate with the least amount of votes for their first choice would have their vote transferred to the candidate they voted as their second choice, which could be the key to victory.

"If any candidate fails to get a majority of the vote, which is very likely, the [IRV] will transfer the vote," Swalwell said. "If the TANG and FLASH have enough secondary votes, it could push one of them over the top."

SGA elections have previously encountered runoff situations, most recently in 2001, when SPANK presidential candidate Angela Lagdameo and vice president for campus affairs candidate Jeremy Bates engaged in a runoff situation with Real Party candidates Micah Coleman and Ariel Oxman, respectively. About 6,400 students voted in the first round of elections. Only 3,490 voted in the runoff one week later, with Lagdameo and Bates claiming victory.

This year's presidential candidates say they are satisfied with instant runoff voting, and interested to see the results of this year's debut of the system.

"I think the election is probably going to end up in a runoff," said TANG Party presidential candidate Pat Wu. "The only thing that's different is that we have told people if they're not voting for us first, then vote for us second."


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