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Tuesday, August 11, 2020


New SGA election voting system changes the process for the better

The process relies on voters knowing and understanding all the candidates running in the election. Rank choice voting allows for voters to have a larger impact on the election if their first choice vote gets eliminated. Voters in the SGA election will have a choice between Allison Lawrence, Claude Johnson and Moiz Syed. | Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

As you know at this point, the Student Government Association election is fast approaching. Starting Thursday Feb. 21, students will be able to vote on who will represent them in the 56th SGA Administration.

If you’re wondering why you should care, we answered that question last week. Here’s a simple rundown: SGA helps students and affects student fees, and you want someone to represent you well.

In April 2018, SGA passed a new election code that made a few changes to the way the election occurs. This year, voting will begin Thursday at midnight and run through Wednesday Feb. 27 until 11:59 p.m. Physical campaigning will also be prohibited Sunday, so if you’re on campus that day, you’re in luck.

This year, voting will look a little different than it has in the past. Previously, the election has employed the first past the post voting system. The changes being made to the process will make voting simpler and faster. It’s a good and necessary change to the system for a more fair and streamlined election process, and a lot of reasons help you, the voter.

A ranked system

Rank choice voting is a lot better than the first past the post system that’s been employed in previous elections. In a first past the post system, whoever receives the most votes in a single-seat election wins. In an election where multiple seats are up for grabs, the candidates with the most votes win.

For example, if there are three seats up for grabs, the top three candidates who receive the most votes win. It’s a pretty simple system, but it also contains a lot of inherent flaws in an election this small.

Rank choice voting is a slightly different system that can seem more confusing because it’s not entirely straightforward since there are rounds and your other choices matter just as much as your first choice. It’s not too difficult of a process from the perspective of a voter, though.

All the voter has to do is rank their choices in order of preference. It’s that simple and possibly makes voting a little more interesting.

In an election with one seat up for grabs, like the SGA presidential race, the first candidate to get more than 50 percent of the vote wins.

In elections with multiple seats up for grabs, the candidates that pass the threshold win. Threshold is pretty simple. All you have to do is divide 100 percent by the number of candidates. For example, if there are four candidates, the threshold is 25 percent. If there are three candidates, the threshold is roughly 33 percent.

Let’s use a one-seat election as an example. If after the initial results come in no candidate has received 50 percent of the vote, then the candidate with the smallest percentage of votes is eliminated. This is where ranking comes in.

If someone ranked the eliminated candidate as their top choice, then their vote is given to the candidate who is their second choice. This continues until one candidate receives 50 percent of the vote.

The process is similar for multiple-seat races. The only difference occurs when one candidate meets the threshold before all the seats have been filled. That candidate’s voter’s second-choice votes are then taken into account. The process continues until all seats are filled.

No runoffs

Runoff elections are the worst. They’re the worst for those campaigning and for anyone who has to walk through Butler Plaza or anywhere else campaigning is happening. In the times I have helped with an SGA election, if there was a runoff, people would always ask, “Didn’t I vote in this already?”

And they’re right, they already voted in the SGA election, but now there’s another vote and even fewer people are inclined to participate. In last year’s runoff election, a total of 2,661 students voted. That means less than six percent of the student population decided who would be president and vice president compared to eight percent who voted in the regular election. Though that’s not the biggest change, it’s still fewer voters.

This system also gives a large advantage to the party who won the most senate seats.

Now, in a perfect world, when someone joins a party they commit for the regular election and any possible runoffs, win or lose. But if a senate candidate loses their race but the party presidential candidate goes into the runoff, the senate candidate is not as inclined to help the presidential candidate. That creates a big advantage for the senate-winning party.

Candidates have to work

I’ve been involved in many different SGA campaigns in my time at UH. At the beginning of campaign season, and especially in the months leading up to the election, everyone who’s running says they’re going to work hard. Every candidate swears they will be in Butler Plaza and across campus handing out fliers and talking to students. In reality, that’s not always the case.

Now, the way senatorial candidates are elected changes the way that candidates have to work. Don’t get me wrong, attaching your name to a good party is still one of the best ways to get elected. It’s pretty common knowledge among SGA campaigns that the party with the best on-the-ground outreach usually wins the most seats.

But with rank choice voting, a candidate going out and talking to students will mean a lot more. If that candidate gets enough first-, second- and third-place votes, then that candidate, even if the candidate’s party does not do well, has a better chance of doing well. Does that mean the candidate will win? No, not always, but it really helps that candidate’s chances.

The more outreach a voting system can promote, the better chances are that more people will vote and that students will know their representatives.

Your voice matters more

After every election, whether it’s a national election or another student government election, people always complain about their voice not mattering. In every other election, if you voted for someone who lost, did that vote even matter? In rank choice voting systems, that concern is not as valid.

You’re now able to rank your choice, which means, especially in a race with multiple seats, your choices matter a lot. In a close presidential race, your rankings matter even more than the single vote you used to get.

This system may have a few kinks this year, but from the perspective of a voter, it’s still a pretty simple task. So remember to engage with any candidates you see walking around campus and to vote starting Thursday, Feb. 21.

Opinion Editor Jorden Smith is a political science and creative writing senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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