In Austin, the University of Texas Student Government recently passed an amendment to its constitution that will allow it to conduct its elections using ranked choice voting. The constitutional amendment was passed in a referendum that received overwhelming support with 78 percent of the vote. Students will be using ranked choice voting for the first time when they head to the polls next fall.
This effort to implement ranked choice voting was led by a group formed last semester, called the (I)'s of Texas. It’s main goal was to move the UT student government elections to an instant runoff system. And they did - quickly.
The group’s interest in ranked choice voting stemmed from a concern that some communities within the student body felt alienated from their representatives, and thus they hoped this new voting system would promote fair representation for all students. Runoff elections for the president and vice president offices were also a concern. One of the co-authors of the bill mentioned students consider these runoffs a hassle and that they typically see lower voter turnout.
Ranked choice voting helps address these exact issues. FairVote has accumulated years of research which show once jurisdictions start using ranked choice voting, they tend to have a more representative government and elections that are more voter-friendly, without the need for any expensive and low-turnout runoff elections.
Freshman Stephen Buckner -- a columnist for The Daily Texan and an (I)'s of Texas member -- wrote an op-ed last fall about first-year Student Government member elections not being representative enough to the incoming Freshmen class. In Buckner’s his first election he witnessed how two first-year representatives won with less than 25 percent of the vote combined.
In the op-ed, Buckner argues that: "for a position designed to represent the interests of the freshman class on campus, that task is complicated when candidates have neither much connection to on-campus issues, nor a majority of their peers backing them. The current election system encourages Longhorns who are running for office not to branch out, learn about student issues and meet many of their classmates, but instead to rely on a base of people they share an organization with."
In addition to being a member of the (I)'s, Buckner decided to join UT’s Election Supervisory Board, which oversees all campus elections, to better understand the school’s current electoral system and what it would take to implement ranked choice voting. Moreover, the relationships that this position allowed him to build were crucial in garnering support from the student government.
With the implementation of ranked choice voting, UT will become the third university in the Lone Star State to implement ranked choice voting, joining Texas A&M and Rice. Now more than 100,000 students have greater choice, a stronger voice, and a more representative student government.