Student elections partially transition to using instant-runoff voting

By Richard Pryor III
Executive Staff

At their informational meeting about elections, the Elections Committee, chaired by Kelsey Arbuckle (C’19), President of the Order of the Gown (OG), announced a major change to the electoral process for this year. For single-seat elections, specifically OG President, Student Government Association (SGA) President, and Student Trustee, they will be conducted using instant-runoff voting.

In an instant-runoff ballot, voters will rank the candidates starting with their first choice and ending with their last. Votes will be awarded to the first preference of each voter. Should no candidate have a majority by that point, the candidate with the lowest votes will be eliminated from contention, and the votes will be redistributed to the second preferred candidate on each ballot. This process will continue until a winner is elected.

The idea came to Arbuckle last year in her State Politics class with Dr. Clint Swift, when the topic of instant-runoff voting was brought up. Finding enthusiastic allies in SGA President Mac Bouldin (C’19) and then-Honor Council Chair Margaret Dupree (C’19), they did a trial run of the system for the Class of 2022 Honor Council election in September 2018. Due to the success that election had, Arbuckle and Bouldin, who comprise the Elections Committee, decided to put it into place full-time. Instant-runoff voting is supported on Engage, which made it a much easier decision.

“I thought it was really fascinating to take something I learned in a classroom and actually get to apply it!,” Arbuckle exclaimed to The Purple.

A graphic representation of the voting reform. Photo courtesy of Richard Pryor III.

“It’s better at preventing controversies or other issues,” noted Bouldin. Many upperclassmen remember that in the spring of 2017, the campus faced a runoff election for SGA President between Lynn Whitfield (C’18) and eventual winner Brandon Iracks-Edelin (C’18). It is also possible that an election might be decided closely, with no candidate receiving a majority of the votes cast.

In the 2017 runoff, the voter turnout was lower than the general election, as it was held the week after the general. Arbuckle commented “lower participation is not ideal.” As such, this system will not require an extra election and the lower turnout that comes with it while still ensuring that the winning candidates receive a majority.

“In the past, there had been confusion about how runoffs were conducting, and [Arbuckle] and [Bouldin] thought that this way to resolve the issue. If this will make it more fair and equitable, then I’m on board,” expressed Dayla LaRocque (C’19).

Nelson Tyer Jones (C’22), who voted in the fall elections, commented that “the system was helpful because it really forced people to look into every candidate and every option!”

There is a similar process called single transferable vote (STV) that can be used for elections where there are multiple seats open, like SGA Class Senators or non-freshman seats on the Honor Council. However, Arbuckle and Bouldin declined to use it because Engage does not have the function to host that form of vote

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