Maryland, College Park Considers Using IRV for Student Government Elections
Editorial: Results in an instant
February 13, 2002
If you've never experienced a
Student Government Association election, consider yourself lucky.
Occurring annually each spring, they bring sidewalk chalkings and
fliers littered around the campus. Last year, candidates drove
around the campus in golf carts and dressed up in ridiculous
costumes in an attempt to attract the students' attention. When
election day finally came, the votes were tallied and lo and behold,
none of the candidates had gotten 40 percent of the vote.
following week brought many of the same antics from the final
candidates, by now desperate to make their time, efforts and energy
worthwhile. But when election day No. 2 rolled around, not nearly as
many people voted, probably because by that point, they had lost
interest. It's no secret that runoff elections are generally not as
successful as first-round elections, bringing up the question of
whether they're really a true indicator of the winning candidate or
not. But instant-runoff voting presents a solution to this problem.
Instant-runoff voting eliminates the need for runoff elections by
allowing voters to rank candidates preferentially. Thus, if a
person's first-choice candidate is eliminated in the first round of
voting, his or her second-choice candidate would be used in the
runoff. The final candidate, winning a majority of the vote, would
be finally determined with very little extra time on the part of,
An additional factor is that each candidate is
allotted a certain amount of campaign money per election -
first-round or runoff - and that money comes from the SGA, which
gets it from your student fees. Instant-runoff voting is tallied by
a software program that requires a one-time investment, making the
mandatory fees paid by each student more effective and less
The SGA will be voting tomorrow on a bill that would
utilize instant-runoff voting in the election coming up later this
semester. Eric Swalwell, chairman of the SGA government affairs
committee, introduced the bill last week and wrote a column
promoting it in Monday's Diamondback. The bill promises to eliminate
the hassle and aggravation that is threatening to become a staple of
SGA elections. When more than two candidates decide to run, it is
nearly impossible for any one of them to receive 40 percent of the
vote. And oftentimes, when a third candidate without a large ticket
runs, the voters who really side with that candidate's ideas decide
not to vote for him because they figure their vote won't count
anyway. But instant-runoff voting would allow students to vote for a
minority candidate guilt-free, knowing that even if he is eliminated
in the first round of voting, their wishes will still be heeded in
There is nothing to be lost by
passing this bill and instituting instant-runoff voting. The benefits - sanity
and order in the election process - are boundless. But
that doesn't mean you won't see another monkey driving a golf cart around
to vote today on runoff-election reform
February 13, 2002
By Scott Goldstein
The SGA will vote today to
drastically change its election process. If passed, the bill would
prevent a repeat of the costly and time-consuming runoff of last
Student Government Association government affairs committee
chairman Eric Swalwell formally introduced the bill last week,
calling for an instant-runoff voting system that would eliminate a
second vote by allowing voters to rank candidates instead of
"[IRV] is not black and white," Swalwell said. "It's
a true, free and fair election."
Under current SGA 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 candidates do not reach the 40 percent
mark, a runoff election is held one week later.
instant-runoff election, each voter is given the opportunity to rank
candidates in preferential order. If no candidate gets more than 50
percent of the vote, the candidate with the least first-choice votes
The ballots with the eliminated candidate listed as
the first choice are reprocessed to the next-choice selection. The
process would continue until a winner emerges with a majority vote.
Historically, fewer people vote in runoffs, and instant-voting
supporters say voting for a third-party candidate would no longer
equate to throwing away a vote.
Although this process would
essentially eliminate the chance of a "spoiler" candidate, Swalwell
said the instant-runoff election actually helps additional
"IRV levels the playing field for third-party
challengers," Swalwell wrote in a column in yesterday's Diamondback.
"Because of a ranking system, voters will no longer feel their vote
is wasted if they vote third party or independent."
The bill comes
in the wake of last year's election, when SPANK SGA party
presidential candidate Angela Lagdameo and vice president of campus
affairs candidate Jeremy Bates won a runoff against Real Party
candidates Micah Coleman and Ariel Oxman. Almost 6,400 people voted
in the initial election, but only 3,490 voted in the runoff a week
Eric Olson, deputy director for the Center for Voting and
Democracy and a College Park city councilman, campaigns across the
country for instant-runoff elections. Schools currently using the
instant-runoff election include the University of California at
Berkeley, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, and Harvard, Stanford and Johns Hopkins
universities, Olson said.
"IRV is a more democratic system because
you get a majority winner with over 50 percent of the vote. People
can express all of their preferences and don't have to come back to
the polls the next week," Olson said.
The vote was originally
scheduled for tonight, but was delayed because the registrar's
office has not determined when the university's website could
implement necessary changes.
University Courtyard legislator
Francis Dacanay said the new system is a good alternative to holding
a second election because it would save the candidates from the
extra week of campaigning and exhaustion. "[IRV] is a way to solve
that problem," he said.
Swalwell said he hopes the university could
become a model for college elections across the country. Swalwell
said Maryland would be the biggest university in the country to
adopt the election process.
According to Swalwell, the
software required for the new system would cost up to $1,000.
Swalwell said the new software, which is sold by Voting Solutions
company, would save the SGA and candidates money that would
otherwise be spent on runoffs. Tomorrow's vote
is only to affirm the organization's interest in an instant-runoff
election, and will not bind the SGA to a contract with
Voting Solutions, Swalwell said.
to eliminate SGA run-offs
Guest Columnist: Eric
February 12, 2002
The Student Government
Association's elections are quickly approaching. Hallways will soon
be plastered with posters, sidewalks will be decorated with chalk
and candidates will be running around the campus soliciting your
vote. And if any of these candidates for executive office fail to
reach a voting threshold of 40 percent, there will be an
intermission, and then the circus will return for its grand finale:
the run-off election.
what if I told you I could eliminate half the circus and its cost
(in terms of money, time, emotion and energy)? At next Wednesday's
SGA meeting (6:00 p.m., 2111 Stamp Student Union), your elected
legislators will be voting on a bill I have introduced that intends
to eliminate run-off elections. The bill further proposes to replace
run-off elections with the sophisticated method of Instant Run-Off
Voting (commonly known as IRV). Before I explain what IRV is, it's
important to understand the problems with run-off elections.
executive office candidates only have to receive 40 percent of the
undergraduate vote to assume office. This literally leaves the
opportunity for a candidate to be opposed by 60 percent of the
voting student body and still win office.
Second, since 40 percent
is rarely reached when three or more viable candidates seek office,
run-off elections are held often.
Third, a run-off election usually
has a smaller voter turnout than the main election. By holding a
run-off election, we are essentially losing votes that were cast in
a main election. Do you as a student really have the extra time to
vote twice in two weeks?
Finally, run-off elections cost everyone
involved more money, time, energy and emotions. If a run-off
election is held, the SGA will most likely have to spend an extra
$600 to advertise in The Diamondback. Candidates in a run-off will
be forced to spend more money campaigning an extra week, and the
registrar's office will have to use its personnel again to tabulate
the results of another election.
Elections are also exhausting,
emotionally and physically. Anyone who ran last year will tell you
that the biggest SPANKing was on his or her GPA, and the REAL winner
was whoever wasn't emotionally and physically drained when it was
all said and done. An extra week of campaigning can sometimes mean a
letter grade or two, hours of lost sleep and a roller coaster of
So how do we hold an election without a run-off, and
still force a candidate to receive at least 51 percent of the vote?
The solution is Instant Run-Off Voting.
With IRV, students rank
their candidates in order of preference. For example, let's say
there were three candidates for president: Gore, Bush and Nader. A
voter has the option of ranking his or her candidates from one to
three, or not ranking at all. So let's say Student X ranks Nader as
number one, Gore as number two and Bush as number three.
that once the votes are tallied, the initial count distributed 45
percent of the vote to Bush, 45 percent to Gore and 10 percent to
Nader. Under IRV, a software program will automatically place Bush
and Gore in a run-off. All the votes for Nader will be transferred
by their ranking preferences. In the case of Student X, the next
best choice after Nader is Gore. Therefore Student X's vote would
transfer to Gore. Once the program transfers the votes, a majority
would be achieved and a winner declared.
But there's another reason
IRV is effective. Unlike the current system, it does not violate the
logical fallacy of "false dilemma," otherwise known as limiting your
choices to "all or nothing." With IRV, voters are given a middle
ground, a ranking system. In the aforementioned example, if Nader
were eliminated, who was the next favorite candidate? Under IRV the
voter has more colors to choose than just black and white. As you
can probably see by now, this system eliminates not only run-offs
but also spoiler candidates.
But don't be fooled, eliminating
spoilers does not mean eliminating third-party challengers. Instead,
IRV levels the playing field for third-party candidates. Because of
a ranking system, voters will no longer feel their vote is wasted if
they vote third party or independent.
If this method of election
reform is important to you, please attend the SGA meeting this
Wednesday and tell a legislator. With your support we no longer have
to waste your student fees, and candidates will no longer have to
waste their time, money and energy. And once the votes are
calculated, the true winner will be efficiency.
Eric Swalwell is the chairman
of the SGA committee on governmental affairs. He can be reached at