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The Daily Tarheel

Elections face change
By Eshanthi Ranasinghe
April 15, 2003

Although voter turnout has increased with the implementation of online voting, students at UNC and across the county continue to complain about lack of representation in student government.

Student complaints and apathy have led several student governments to adopt new electoral systems, deeming their "winner-take-all" method outdated and unfair.

"There's a big problem with young people turning out to vote," said John Russell, student outreach coordinator at the Center for Voting and Democracy. "And a change is needed in order to put us back on the right track toward voter participation."

That change, Russell said, involves the implementation of a new voting system that allows students to rank candidates in order of preference for the positions available. If there isn't a majority winner after votes are cast, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and the votes of the electors who chose that candidate go to the candidate they ranked second.

Russell said that choice voting increases the chance that a ballot leads to representation and that the ranking system better reflects the views of the electorate.

"Choice voting ... eliminates the concern that young people have that there are not enough options for them to vote," Russell said.

One of the system's main benefits is that it allows student government to combine regular elections and runoff elections, reducing the cost of elections, Russell said.

At UNC, student body presidents only are elected after they receive a majority vote. But this often requires a runoff election between the two candidates receiving the highest percentage of votes.

"A lot of schools are adopting it because it is a lot simpler ... and it takes more money to pay for a second election," Russell said.

Student Congress Speaker Will Dupont said that though the instant runoff system appears cost-effective, the ranking system could magnify the effects of student apathy.

"My fear would be that voter apathy for the second and third choice would be higher," Dupont said. "For their second and third choices, students would just fill (the ballot) out in the order it appears. They'd just go down the ballot."

In order for the system to be effective at UNC, Dupont said, students would have to understand the importance of the ranking system. He also said he'd have to research the system carefully. "I'd have to look up the statistics ... and see how it works at the big universities that are similar to us."

Other universities that have adopted or are in the process of establishing the instant runoff system include Duke, Wake Forest and Stanford universities.

Contact the University Editor at [email protected]


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