The complexities of instant-runoff voting

Anna H.R. Khan and Danny Arbeiter // Published April 10, 2008 in The Daily Stanford
For those who have not voted before or do not remember how it works, the ASSU executive race has a complex voting system, called instant-runoff voting. Each voter is allowed to rank all of the slates from first to last. When the votes are tallied up, only the first choices of voters are counted. The slate that receives the lowest vote is eliminated. This process goes on until one slate has won a majority of votes. This process is perhaps more democratic than conventional voting, because in an election with five-plus candidates, voters usually like various platforms and more than one slate.

When an executive candidate asks you to “vote for me,” what they are actually asking is “rank me highest.” Voting for one slate does not necessarily preclude voting for others at all — indeed, most executive slates should encourage you to vote for other slates as well.

A number of unprecedented occurrences have made this particular election revolutionary in many ways — to name two, SOCC has not endorsed an executive slate, and there are more competitive executive slates than ever before. The combination of these events has led the elections landscape in a variety of new and interesting directions. Because there are so many strong slates, voters should feel comfortable voting for more than one slate, as it is extremely unlikely that one slate will get 50% in such a contested field. The slate that does end up the winner after multiple rounds of voting will be more legitimate as a result because more voters will have voted for that slate, even if it wasn’t their first choice.

This is one of the reasons why the 2008 Elections Commission has tried so hard to encourage voting by simultaneously providing new mediums to encourage personal interaction between candidates and the student body (ie, Rock the Vote, Executive Debate), as well as stressing voiced platforms instead of just fliers (not to mention leaving bathrooms free of campaign material).

The instant-runoff voting system allows for a scenario where no one gets to see their first choice slate enter office, but everyone gets to see their second choice slate enter office, an elections outcome that could happen this year for the first time.

Thus, we encourage students to vote not just for their favorite slate, but also for their second, third, and fourth favorite slates. It gives us options and fuels a more representative democracy that we have tried to envision here at Stanford.

Anna H.R. Khan is the ASSU Elections Commissioner for Media & Outreach. Danny Arbeiter was elected to the Undergraduate Senate in 2005 and 2006, and has been involved with the ASSU since 2004.