Starting Feb. 14 until elections on Feb. 28 and March 1, students will run for positions ranging from student body president to co-op representative to editor-in-chief. With the current crowded field of candidates, it looks like we are going to be voting more than once. We are headed to a runoff.
Runoff elections are a drain on resources and student attention. Constitutional amendment C.S.B. 2 aims to fix this problem by instituting a single transferable voting system, also known as ranked choice voting. This is a desperately-needed measure that will improve transparency and engagement with Student Government — the legislative assembly must approve this bill.
First, some explanation of what this change means. Student elections are currently decided in a winner-take-all fashion. A single candidate must earn at least 51 percent of the vote to win the race. Easy enough with two candidates, but it is a lot harder to reach this benchmark once a third contender enters the picture. For example, a 49, 26, 25 percent voting breakdown would trigger a separate, runoff vote between the recipients of the two highest percentages of votes, despite the second-best candidate receiving only half the percentage of first-choice support compared to the leader. Theoretically, this would indicate that the 49 percent winner would perform well in the second round, but there’s no guarantee that those same voters would vote the same way again — or at all.
C.S.B. 2 would address this problem. Under a ranked-voting system, students get to rank their vote by choice of preference, eliminating the need for a runoff to narrow down the field. This system would provide a more accurate pulse of feelings toward SG and avoiding the pitfalls and distractions of a runoff election.
Runoff elections throw a wrench into everyone’s schedules. They require at least a week of additional time campaigning and a third day of voting— a lose-lose situation. An extra week allows potential drama to brew on the SG side of the operation, but not enough time for any groundbreaking platform adjustments to be made.
From the student body’s perspective, a week and a few days of runoffs is just long enough to dramatically decrease the chance that a given voter will pay attention long enough to make an informed choice. Allowing students to rank their choices from the start will result in the final decision being a closer reflection of actual preferences, not just those most motivated to vote twice.
A transferable voting system will also have tangible impacts on administration transition. Extra time between election and administration week gives SG’s current administration more time to transition over to the new administration and new representatives. No right-minded student would turn down an extra week of prep for an exam, and no SG leader would turn down an extra week to set priorities, schedule meetings and plan for a year of leadership.
There are probably several reasons that the switch from our current system hasn’t already happened. Changes — especially to voting systems — are tough to initiate, and that goes double if the change costs money. But SG should be willing to front any costs to make ranked voting a reality. Representation affects every aspect of SG, and an organization that cites promoting student voices in its mission statement should consider voting system improvements a top priority.
This legislation is a rare opportunity to make a positive, simple fix and improve life at UT. Any student can write legislation — you don’t have to be in SG. But for the candidates students do elect, we should at least feel that we are getting our first choice.
Editor’s note: A Daily Texan staff member unaffiliated with the editorial board contributed to the creation of C.S.B. 17.