A Guide to Instant Runoff Voting

By Mark Henle
Published April 19th 2005 in The Dartmouth (NH)

For the first time in Student Assembly history, the body's President and Vice President will be elected via instant runoff voting. In the past, candidates were elected via a simple plurality of students, and the systems proponents said the new method would ensure that the winner will have the mandate of a majority of students.

Under the new IRV system adopted by the Elections Planning and Advisory Committee, undergraduates will be able -- but not required -- to enter the rankings for all five candidates. If no candidate garners a majority in the initial count, the candidate with the least votes will be removed and his votes redistributed based on the second choices of the people who voted for him. This process of eliminating the least popular candidate is repeated until a candidate receives a majority.

EPAC Chair David Hankins '05 has been pushing for IRV at Dartmouth for years, but last year's race, in which Student Body President Julia Hildreth '05 edged out Ralph Davies '05 by a single vote, brought the issue to the forefront of Assembly debate this year.

"It's something that I'd been talking about for three years. I introduced a bill to the Committee on Student Life, and then to the General Assembly, and it passed on the second try," Hankins said.

Despite the fact that Hildreth conceded at a March 31 Assembly meeting that she "wouldn't have been [Assembly] President" if IRV had been in place, Hildreth was a late supporter of the amendment that adopted it.

"It just could've easily been me losing by one vote and I'm not sure how easy that would've been to deal with," Hildreth said at the March 31 meeting.

Hankins agreed with Hildreth, emphasizing the need for a clear winner to emerge from the Assembly's elections.

"We want our President and Vice President to have a strong mandate so they can make whatever changes they feel necessary," Hankins said. "It also is a more clear reflection of the will of students."

Although Davies would likely have won under an IRV system, he opposed the amendment, arguing that the new procedure will complicate the voting process without improving it.

"I feel like you get one vote and no second choices. A candidate should be strong enough to establish himself as a first-choice candidate." Davies said. "I think it's going to discourage people from voting. They're not going to know what it is."

Students have generally supported the new voting system, recognizing that it gives them more of a say in the final outcome of the election.

"It sounds like a wonderful idea," Daniel Peebles '07 said. "I think it makes sense to be make sure the President and Vice President have the support of a majority of students."

IRV is used at many other schools, including Harvard, Rice, Stanford and Princeton. It is also employed around the world to elect the Australian Parliament, the President of Ireland and the Mayor of London.