The Student Association Senate planned to overhaul its election process last academic year, including a switch to a ranked-choice voting system instead of electing a candidate by a simple majority.
But the Joint Elections Commission – the body that oversees SA elections – lacked the proper technology to use the voting system this year and held off on implementing the new structure until next spring. The JEC could not have predicted that a last-minute write-in candidate would send the election into a runoff, but ranked-choice voting would have saved students from the drama.
Ranked-choice voting allows students to rank their candidates from their first to last choice, and any candidate who acquires 50 percent of the vote would win automatically. But if no candidate reached the 50 percent threshold, the individual with the lowest number of first-choice votes would be eliminated, and the second-choice votes from those ballots would be counted. The process would continue until one candidate secures at least 50 percent of the vote.
But the JEC did not follow through on its initial plans to use the system, and students will be asked to vote for a second time this week for the SA president. Had the JEC implemented ranked-choice voting this year, the presidential race would not have rolled into another week.
Under the SA constitution, candidates who do not receive at least 40 percent of the vote move on to a runoff election involving the two individuals who took the highest percentages. This year, three presidential candidates were on the ballot and a fourth staged an improbable write-in campaign two days before polls opened, which divided the share of votes to less than 40 percent each on election night. Freshman Justin Diamond and junior SJ Matthews, who took 27 and 25 percent of the vote, respectively, will now advance to a runoff election Thursday.
Diamond’s campaign is predicated on the idea that the SA is an unnecessary institution, and his platform highlights one action item: abolish the organization. Matthews, the Residence Hall Association president who plans to grant all students tap access and increase transparency in the SA, is the second presidential contender.
Matthews and Diamond align in recognizing the SA’s flaws, but Diamond’s solution of abolishing the SA breaks away from the rest of the field. Matthews wants to improve the SA by holding more listening sessions to ensure students feel represented by their student leaders. But this fundamental difference in their platforms would have prevented a runoff because students who want the SA to stay would have ranked him last on the ballot – eliminating him from the race.
Candidates ShanTorrian Underwood and Nicole Cennamo finished third and fourth in the presidential race, respectively, but together they accrued enough votes to make up the difference between either Diamond or Matthews reaching the 50 percent threshold.
Matthews, Underwood and Cennamo put together platforms that fought tough issues on campus, like food insecurity and affordability. Students who voted for Underwood or Cennamo under a ranked-choice system likely would have allocated their second- and third-choice votes toward candidates with platforms focused on improving the SA instead of axing it. Matthews’ positions, while often taking on different solutions than Underwood or Cennamo, were similar enough that it is likely she would have won in a ranked-choice system.
Had ranked-choice voting been implemented, the SA would have a president-elect.
A runoff election isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Students who were unlikely to vote were inspired by Diamond’s campaign, which gave him stardom on the GW memes Facebook page. His campaign started a conversation about what the SA can do better and its necessity in the allocation of student-group funds. But having representation is more important than eliminating inefficiencies, and the majority of students who voted for Matthews, Underwood and Cennamo showed that most of the student body still wants representation.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a sophomore majoring in political science and psychology, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.
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