As the movement for ranked choice voting (RCV) continues to grow, college campuses have become trailblazers for electoral reform. From incubating protest movements to registering their fellow students to vote, democracy has become a central focus of young students who want all of their voices to be heard in America’s increasingly dysfunctional political system. Within their own elections, RCV has spread as a method to improve student government elections by empowering students to express the full scope of their preferences in the election process.
Georgia State University’s Student Government Association (SGA) joined this movement, voting unanimously on February 18 to adopt RCV for all future student elections beginning next fall. Georgia State’s SGA is among the largest structures of student government in the United States, representing more than 50,000 students across six different campuses who make up the largest university in Georgia and one of the most diverse in the country. With its passage of ranked choice voting, Georgia State University becomes the 90th school on a growing list that has adopted the reform for their student body elections and is the first school to do so in the state of Georgia. Overall, the colleges and universities that use RCV now compose more than 1.6 million students in 30 states.
The work of implementing this reform would not have been possible without the leadership of Georgia State University’s student body president Kaelen E. Thomas. Born and raised in Georgia, Thomas, Georgia State’s 91st University-Wide President, has had to navigate a challenging year at the helm of student government, balancing the COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to virtual meetings and engagement. Yet, Thomas, who is studying Political Science and Public Policy, was determined to leave a legacy of electoral reform that would improve Georgia State’s election system for all of the students to come. “With this change, our students can be confident in knowing that their elected representatives have broad support within our campus community and truly represent their interests,” Thomas said.
Prior to implementing RCV, Georgia State University’s election system required runoff elections when a candidate did not attain a majority or significant (15%) margin over their opponents. These required runoffs led to significant drop offs in turnout for the second election among the student body and made the transition from one administration to the next more difficult. The same problem is also apparent in the state of Georgia’s own electoral system which also holds runoff elections when candidates do not attain majority-support (50%+1), resulting in millions of dollars spent on a second election with lower overall turnout, especially among marginalized groups. RCV, on the other hand, efficiently satisfies the need for a candidate to attain majority support in one election with an “instant” runoff rather than needing to hold a second runoff election.
Thomas was also concerned with the incentive for candidates to campaign against one another or negatively in order to win votes rather than appeal to a majority of the student body. For two years in a row, a Georgia State presidential candidate has had to be disqualified from the election for a violation of campaign rules. Ranked choice voting, in contrast, encourages more civil campaigning as candidates are incentivized to compete for the second or third choice votes of supporters of other candidates.
Summarizing the case for this important reform, Thomas articulated, “Ranked choice voting will give the students of Georgia State University the opportunity to participate in an election that encourages positive campaigning, empowers their individual voices, shortens the overall election season, and promotes the timely transition of power from one Student Government Administration to the next.”
Photo credit: Kaelen E. Thomas, 91st University-Wide President of Georgia State
Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal. Used with permission.