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USAC looks into changing voting system for May elections

By Lucy Benz-Rogers and Jennifer Han

March 7, 2007 10:22 p.m.

In an attempt to create more proportional representation on the undergraduate student government, council is considering changes to the voting system for the May elections.

At Tuesday’s meeting, councilmembers heard a presentation about the different voting system options by Elections Board chairwoman Sandybeth Carrillo, a former Daily Bruin reporter, who recommended that the council either specify the single transferable vote (STV) process already planned for general representative races or switch all 13 races to the instant runoff voting (IRV) system.

“The main reason for (changing the voting system) is to increase independent voting,” Carrillo said. “We want to get rid of the mentality that “˜my vote won’t count.’ Even if your first choice candidate is not elected, your vote will still count (with the IRV system).”

In the system planned for this year, of the 13 councilmembers elected, 10 are elected using an IRV system.

An instant runoff system lets a voter rank a number of candidates. The first place votes are then tabulated, eliminating the candidate with the fewest number of votes and then transferring the second and then third choice votes to the remaining candidates. This elimination process is repeated until all the available seats are filled.

Three seats of the Undergraduate Students Association Council are occupied by general representatives.

The current plan is for these three general representative seats to be elected using a STV system, though the council may decide to switch all 13 races to an IRV system.

STV elections involve setting a winning threshold, which is the smallest number of votes that any candidate must receive to be guaranteed a seat on council.

After ballots are collected on MyUCLA, the number of first place votes are counted, and if a candidate has votes above the threshold, then that candidate wins a seat and his or her extra votes are transferred to other candidates.

If no candidate has a surplus of votes, then the candidate with the least number of votes is automatically eliminated and his or her votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates that have not reached the threshold.

There are a variety of mathematical processes that can be used to redistribute the votes.

Once a general representative candidate reaches the threshold, that candidate is elected to council and the process is repeated until all three seats are filled.

Eric Splaver, director of College Information Services, said the STV voting system is very complicated due to its many parameters and the different ways that votes can be transferred.

Currently, the STV system parameters for transferring the surplus votes that are used for electing general representatives are not specifically outlined in the Elections Code, the document outlining the rules for USAC elections.

Splaver said he believes this ambiguity may cause problems when losing candidates begin to question the way votes are counted.

“These issues of what’s fair and why have been heard in rooms like this all over the world. If you choose one of the (voting standards) … the more complicated method you choose, the more likely you are to hear voices of discontent at the end of the process,” he said.

The presenters outlined some of the problems they see with using the STV system for electing the three general representatives.

Elections Board advisor Mike Cohn explained that due to the general dominance of slate party candidates in races, independent candidates tend to receive significantly fewer votes.

He said if the council chooses to implement the STV system for the general representative races, it would be unlikely that independent candidates reach the threshold required and would therefore be less likely to win seats.

He said with an instant runoff system, however, people could vote for an independent candidate without worrying that they would be wasting their vote on a candidate who cannot stand up to the more established parties.

With IRV, voters could still vote for an independent candidate with little chance of winning, while resting assured that their second and third choices are still in the running.

Splaver said another problem he sees with the current system is that the fractional voting system also could lead to difficult situations when the fractional difference in votes for candidates are very small, making it more confusing to determine a winner.

Carrillo emphasized that both the IRV and STV systems have proportional representation; it is now a matter of choosing the system that provides the greatest proportional representation for student voters.

One of USAC President Marwa Kaisey’s main concerns in selecting a voting system was establishing the greatest proportional representation. She said she feels that the IRV system allows students to vote their conscience and that this system will save time and money.

“It is our responsibility to make sure that we have a voting system that represents the students,” Kaisey said.

General Representative Samer Araabi said proportionality is not the only issue at stake, and that the integrity of the election must also be maintained.

“It is important that the entire campus see this election to be legitimate,” Araabi said.

The voting process for the general representative positions would be shortened to one week since the need for runoff elections would be eliminated, Carrillo said.

Council plans to vote on the possible voting system changes at next week’s meeting.

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Lucy Benz-Rogers
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