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Letter: How to improve the SGA election process

Wendell Dilling // Published April 17, 2009 in Central Michigan Life

A letter to the editor from Central Michigan University Chemistry Professor Wendell Dilling on how the school could improve student government elections through instant runoff voting.

This commentary is intended to show how the outcome of the recent election for Student Government Association president and vice president might have been different if an alternate voting procedure had been used.

This is not a criticism of the winning candidates and does not imply that I think the election should have resulted in different winners; rather, it is intended to explain a problem with the current voting procedure, a problem that has also arisen in previous political elections.

The vote tallies in this election were as follows:

Candidates A: 698 (33.54 percent) (Jason Nichol/Brittany Mouzourakis); Candidates B: 572 (27.49 percent); Candidates C: 420 (20.18 percent); Candidates D: 268 (12.88 percent); Candidates E: 77 (3.70 percent); Candidates F: 46 (2.21 percent).

As sometimes happens when there are more than two candidate tickets, the winning ticket was chosen by less than half of the voters; 66.46 percent of the voters voted for candidates other than Nichol/Mouzourakis. However, these candidates won the election because the voting procedure decrees the candidates receiving the greatest number of votes wins the election (plurality).

If the winning candidates are to be elected by a majority (greater than 50 percent) rather than a minority of the voters (33.54 percent in this case), a different voting procedure is needed. A simple method exists to accomplish this, namely a process called multiple-choice election, or instant run-off. This election procedure has been used in several states and Australia.

For example, if a multiple-choice voting procedure had been available for this election, students could have voted for their first- through fifth-choice candidate tickets.

The ballot-counting procedure then would have been to eliminate Candidates F, who had the lowest number of first-choice votes, and add the second-choice votes on those ballots where Candidates F were the first choice to the first-choice votes for the other five candidate tickets.

This commentary is intended to show how the outcome of the recent election for Student Government Association president and vice president might have been different if an alternate voting procedure had been used.

This is not a criticism of the winning candidates and does not imply that I think the election should have resulted in different winners; rather, it is intended to explain a problem with the current voting procedure, a problem that has also arisen in previous political elections.

The vote tallies in this election were as follows:

Candidates A: 698 (33.54 percent) (Jason Nichol/Brittany Mouzourakis); Candidates B: 572 (27.49 percent); Candidates C: 420 (20.18 percent); Candidates D: 268 (12.88 percent); Candidates E: 77 (3.70 percent); Candidates F: 46 (2.21 percent).

As sometimes happens when there are more than two candidate tickets, the winning ticket was chosen by less than half of the voters; 66.46 percent of the voters voted for candidates other than Nichol/Mouzourakis. However, these candidates won the election because the voting procedure decrees the candidates receiving the greatest number of votes wins the election (plurality).

If the winning candidates are to be elected by a majority (greater than 50 percent) rather than a minority of the voters (33.54 percent in this case), a different voting procedure is needed. A simple method exists to accomplish this, namely a process called multiple-choice election, or instant run-off. This election procedure has been used in several states and Australia.

For example, if a multiple-choice voting procedure had been available for this election, students could have voted for their first- through fifth-choice candidate tickets.

The ballot-counting procedure then would have been to eliminate Candidates F, who had the lowest number of first-choice votes, and add the second-choice votes on those ballots where Candidates F were the first choice to the first-choice votes for the other five candidate tickets.

Wendell Dilling

Chemistry faculty member