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The Diamondback

SGA passes bill to eliminate repeat of last year's marathon elections
April 8, 2002
By Scott Goldstein

Hours before the 2002 SGA election season opened Wednesday at midnight, the current SGA passed a bill to eliminate the possibility of a runoff election for executive positions, beginning next year.

The new method, instant-runoff voting, gives voters the opportunity to rank candidates in preferential order. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated.

The ballots with the eliminated candidate as the first choice are reprocessed to the next-choice selection. The process would continue until a winner emerges with a majority vote.

Eric Swalwell, governmental affairs committee chairman, wrote the bill and first introduced it to the full legislature nearly two months ago. Since then it has been evaluated and approved by constitution and by-laws committee, and the elections committee and Mary Ann Granger, associate director for the office of the registrar.

Swalwell said he will work with Granger to develop online computer software that would be used for the elections, rather than purchasing expensive software from an outside company.

"I'm excited [about the bill passing]," Swalwell said. "It's the result of a lot of hard work and strong effort of educating everyone."

Under current Student Government Association 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 no candidate reaches the 40-percent mark, the top two vote-getters are entered in a runoff election one week later.

Eric Olson, deputy director for the Center for Voting and Democracy and a College Park city councilman, advised Swalwell throughout the process. Olson campaigns across the country for instant-runoff elections.

"[IRV] is an efficient system and it will help voters to really express their preferences," Olson said. "I think it will help with voter turnout because you don't need to have a second runoff election where turnout drops."

Swalwell has also said in the past that IRV helps candidates outside major parties.

"IRV levels the playing field for third-party challengers," Swalwell wrote in a column in the Feb. 12 Diamondback. "Because of a ranking system, voters will no longer feel their vote is wasted if they vote third party or independent."

Other schools currently using the instant-runoff elections include The University of California at Berkeley, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard, Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities.

Voters in San Francisco also approved implementation of IRV in a March 5 referendum.

"Maryland is now on the cutting edge for democracy reforms," Olson said. "It's great that [the SGA] had the presence of mind to join a number of other universities using the election system."

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