Cal Poly adopts more efficient voting system

Jessica Ford // Published March 5, 2008 in Mustang Daily
Associated Students Inc. took a step toward a more democratic Cal Poly campus when the board of directors unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday that changes the voting system for ASI presidential elections.

The new system of instant runoff voting eliminates the need for students to vote a second time in the case of runoff elections because students will rank candidates based on their first, second and third choices.

Amanda Rankin, chair of the ASI Elections Committee and agribusiness senior, said there has been a runoff election every year three candidates run for ASI, because no candidate has received a majority of the votes. In order to win the election, the candidate must receive at least 51 percent of the votes.

In previous runoff elections, the two candidates with the most votes advanced to the runoff election. Candidates campaigned for an additional week and students voted again between the two remaining candidates, Rankin said.

Tony Guntermann, chair of the ASI Board of Directors and mechanical engineering senior, said there were about "half as many people voting" in runoff elections, making it a burden on students, the candidates and ASI.

Guntermann was concerned about the "unneeded strain" runoff elections placed on the candidates, and did not want students to be "burned-out on ASI elections."

In last year's ASI presidential election, 4,525 students voted in the first round. However, in the runoff election between Brandon Souza and Matt Taylor, only 2,690 students voted, showing a steep decrease in voter turnout, ASI administration assistant Tracy Watson said.

With the new ranking system, if a single candidate does not receive the majority of student votes, the third place candidate is eliminated from the runoff election. Those who voted for the eliminated candidate as their first choice have their votes changed to their second choice candidate and are recounted. With only two candidates running, one will end up with the majority of votes and thus win the election.

According to FairVote, a national organization devoted to "fair representation for all," instant runoff voting eliminates the "spoiler effect" in elections. This effect occurs when more than two candidates run in an election; the majority of voters in a three-candidate election tend to split their support among the two candidates with the most similar views. This allows the third candidate to win, even though the majority of voters were actually opposed to them, because the majority split its vote. With the instant runoff system, voters will elect the candidate who most closely matches their preferences in a single round of voting.

Rankin said ASI considered changing to instant runoff voting for a number of years.

"We feel that the added time, money and stress of a runoff election is not necessary," Rankin said. "With the IRV (Instant Runoff Voting) system, students will only have to vote once to choose their president and the process will be much more efficient."

The new system will be implemented in time for the upcoming ASI presidential election on May 7 and 8.

ASI presidential candidates will be the only ones affected by this change, since the board of directors will continue to be elected by students choosing a certain number of candidates depending on their college, Guntermann and Rankin said.

"The candidates will need to understand the system so they can be sure that students vote for them even if they are not the student's first choice," Rankin said.

As with the recent Recreation Center Referendum, the ASI presidential election will occur electronically through the portal.

"ASI will be working hard to educate the students about this change to the system," Rankin said. "It will also be very straightforward when students log in to vote, letting them know that they need to rank the candidates."

Voter turnout for last week's referendum was 37.7 percent, the highest any CSU school has ever seen, Rankin said. Turnout greatly surpassed that of last year's ASI elections, in which about 22 percent of students voted.

"E-voting definitely contributed to this increase in voter turnout because it made voting much more accessible to students," Rankin said.