Earlier last week, students at Claremont McKenna College in California elected their 2020 Class President, Bryan Carlen. Carlen won 53% of the vote in the final round of the “instant runoff” or ranked choice voting election, surpassing ten other candidates. There were 220 total votes, and Carlen won with a total of 107 votes (a majority) in the 9th round with 59% voter turnout. In a typical election, a crowded field like this would make it likely that the winner did not receive a majority of the vote of their classmates. Luckily, Claremont McKenna is one of 57 colleges and universities across the nation that use ranked choice voting in their student government elections.
For freshman elections in particular, it can be difficult for new students to decide which candidates would make the best class representatives, especially when the elections take place just weeks into the start of the first semester. Ranked choice voting prevents the election from becoming a popularity contest won with a fractured vote.
Instead, candidates must appeal to students outside of their social groups in order to garner second and third choice support from as many students possible. Voters are encouraged to look past their first choice and learn more about candidates they might not be as familiar with for their second and third choices. This may encourage a more diverse pool of students to run for office, increasing the representation and voices that are underrepresented on campus.
With voters knowing that the winner will be elected with majority support and that there’s no fear of a “wasted” vote, turnout tends to be high. This is key in keeping students engaged with campus politics and becoming active voters off campus too.