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Ranked-choice voting to be implemented for USAC election

By So Jung Ki

May 6, 2014 12:49 a.m.

The way votes are collected in the undergraduate student government election this week may play a significant role in determining the winning candidates.

Starting Tuesday morning, students will cast their votes for some Undergraduate Students Association Council candidates using ranked-choice voting, where they rank candidates – from first choice to last choice – in their order of preference.

Despite multiple attempts for an interview, a representative from the Election Board could not be reached for clarifications regarding the electoral system.

There are at least three students vying for seven of the 13 elected USAC officer positions this year. This means that on the majority of their ballot decisions, students will have the opportunity to rank candidates as their second and third choices for office, instead of just selecting one preferred candidate and one second choice.

This year, candidates are running in full slates, or groups of students who combine their resources and run candidates on similar platforms in the election. Some student groups that were previously part of LET’S ACT! broke from the slate and formed FIRED UP! The division of the slate may correspond to a divided voting base. Bruins United is the third slate running candidates for all the executive officer positions and several of the commissioner council positions.

USAC uses ranked-choice voting – better known as the alternative vote system – to elect candidates for executive and commissioner positions instead of having students vote for just one candidate they prefer.

Including ranking in the voting process makes an important difference in the election, though voters do not have to rank all candidates and can stop indicating ranks when they have no further preferences on the spring ballot.

Counting votes and determining winners involves a process with numerous steps, unless one candidate wins by receiving a majority of first-choice votes.

If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated from the race.

Then, for students who ranked the eliminated candidate as their first-choice, their second choice votes will be re-assigned as first-choice votes.

Next, every first-choice vote is recounted and the candidate with a majority of first-choice votes wins.

This is called the “instant run-off” process, where candidates are eliminated from the race and their votes are redistributed until winners are determined.

If there is a tie between candidates, a run-off election will take place the week after the election, according to the Election Code.

Thomas Schwartz, a political science professor, said he thinks USAC’s voting procedure is an efficient and time-saving method for elections that involve multiple parties that cannot coordinate their votes to achieve a majority during the first round of voting.

A popular candidate may not be able to obtain a majority vote, but the ranking system provides a mechanism for narrowing down a popular candidate based on the voter’s preference, he said.

He added that a candidate who is not leading after the first count of votes still has a chance of winning by gaining enough second- or third-choice votes to override the total count.

Rank voting requires a majority to win, but it still allows candidates who do not receive the majority of votes to be proportionally represented in elections results, Schwartz said.

Students can vote online through MyUCLA until Friday at noon.

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So Jung Ki
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