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IRV at Rice University

April 2003

Rice uses Instant Runoff Voting for campus-wide officer elections and has for at least 25 years. Students can vote from any networked computer on campus, and we have a description of the IRV method on the website. We have a student-written computer program that then tabulates the results and produces a round-by-round description of how many first place votes each candidate received and which candidates were eliminated in which round of redistribution. (Having the program to count the votes is a huge help, especially in years when we have many candidates. What used to take hours now only takes a minute or two.)

We find there's a significant benefit in using IRV (or, as we call it, Preferential Voting) in that we never have to worry about holding runoff  elections. We also get a better idea of which candidate is the most acceptable for the full student body and it eliminates the problems of simple plurality elections, like vote-splitting among candidates.

On the downside, even though we've used this system for as long as we have, many voters still fail to understand how it works and why it matters that they choose their rankings carefully. We see fairly sharp drop-offs in the number of votes as candidates are eliminated because students often only indicate their first choice.

We've tried to combat this by informing students about the voting system in a lot of ways. We have the description of the tabulation of the votes on the ballot, and this year I suggested that our newspaper write a editorial emphasizing the importance of each ranking. (You can read the article here: We also placed a reminder about this on the front page of the candidate blurbs, which are also run in the newspaper.

In the end, I think IRV is a much better system than plurality as long as your voters are educated about the system. This is harder than one might think because the tabulation method for IRV is complicated. However, I think the benefits of the system definitely outweigh any voter education problems that arise.

Matt Haynie
Rice Student Association President, 2002-2003


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