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The Chronicle (Duke University)

by Alex Garinger
February 17, 2003

In an effort to foster compromise in a bitterly divided Duke Student Government, President Joshua Jean-Baptiste signed legislation Friday calling for a new presidential election system after threatening to veto the bylaw change.

Jean-Baptiste warned, however, that the plan should be delayed a year if the technology is not perfectly in place before the polls open March 5--a circumstance that bill proponents agreed would be necessary and a scenario that is quite possible.

"I wanted the non-veto to be a public sign of compromise," Jean-Baptiste said. "It is very important that we restructure the organization, and I'm going to continue pushing for a restructuring. Everyone might not love every part of the process but we have to work together to benefit the students."

Under the new system, which the Legislature passed by a narrow 26-13 vote last Wednesday (the measure necessitated a two-thirds majority to pass), a presidential candidate must win a majority of the vote or face an instant runoff by which voters' rankings of the candidates eliminates contenders until one effectively takes a majority.

Currently, a candidate simply needs to win by a margin of victory of at least 6 percent, no matter how small a percentage of the total vote that may require. No presidential winner has ever garnered more than 48.4 percent of the vote in a DSG election.

"I still have my reservations," Jean-Baptiste said. "I question the true initial motives behind it. And I don't think we have time to implement it in time for the elections."

Attorney General Will Fagan said he is unsure whether the technology will be ready for the instant runoff feature to be implemented this year.

"We have conversations started with people on the tech side.... We're going to weigh the decision pretty heavily," he said.

A contingency plan was included in the bylaw changes if the instant runoff does not come to fruition. The change eliminates the majority requirement but increases the necessary margin of victory to 10 percent.

Jean-Baptiste said another year is probably necessary to educate voters about the new system and create the software to support it.

Executive Vice President Justin Ford said he is happy to be able to put behind him the experience of the past several weeks, in which Jean-Baptiste and the other members of the executive committee exchanged blows in The Chronicle and during meetings.

"As one of the principal authors of the bill, I'm glad to see it go through, and I'm happy to see us try to move on to something else," said Ford, a senior.

Jean-Baptiste agreed. "This in itself is a sign of me being more concerned about getting things done than about petty politics, and I hope that that same kind of attitude can be adopted by everyone involved with the process of change," he said.

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