Students will not need to worry about considering another 11th-hour bid for Student Association president this spring because write-in candidates are no longer an option.
The SA switched to ranked-choice voting this year, meaning students will rank candidates in order of preference and the candidate who reaches more than 50 percent of the vote will win. Student leaders will also use the new platform Engage to run elections this year, and the website will not include an option for students to write in a candidate. Taking away the option to write in a candidate could help avoid joke campaigns and ensure that registered candidates get their air time, but there is a reason most elections allow people to write-in candidates.
Write-in candidates are a form of choosing representation. If all candidates on the ballot are undesirable for a voter, they should have the option to pencil in someone they believe would better represent students. A write-in candidate almost went home victorious last year, and while that set off some student leaders and made a mockery of the SA, students were ultimately choosing the person they wanted. And that person was not listed on the ballot. Taking away write-in options is unjust – SA elections should include the option for students to write in their next student leader if that person is not a registered candidate.
Allowing write-in candidates on the ballot allows all students’ voices to be heard, but there are some downsides to its inclusion. Students could kick off spoof campaigns and use elections as a way to usher in unqualified or fictitious candidates. The issue happens in both college and U.S. elections. At the University of Michigan, students wrote in the name of a favorite campus dog onto the ballot for president of their student government. In the 2016 presidential election, citizens cast ballots for a gorilla named Harambe, Mickey Mouse and Russian President Vladimir Putin. At GW, some students wanted a candidate who vowed to abolish the SA.
Write-in joke candidates rarely win elections and at best, demonstrate to elected officials that they need to address discontent among voters. Students should not be robbed of their chance to elect a write-in candidate because they are the candidate some voters actually want. They may not be the most qualified or have a platform to run on, but they reflect the wishes of voters and demonstrate to candidates on the ballot that they should do a better job catering to all constituents.
For the SA, write-in voting ultimately ensures all students’ voices are considered in the election. Students should be trusted to make the right decision in the election and choose the person they truly want to represent the GW community. Although last year’s write-in candidate wanted to cut the SA and almost won off of that promise, it taught a lesson to other SA leaders and reflected who some voters wanted as SA president.
Introducing write-in candidates to ranked-choice voting can be complicated, but it is possible. In Maine, which introduced ranked-choice voting in its 2018 primary election, there is a designated write-in spot on the ballot. Voters can write in their preferred candidate and rank the candidate against the others. GW’s elections could operate in a similar fashion and include an option for students to rank their write-in candidate among others.
There is a reason most elections allow voters to write in their preferred candidate. It demonstrates that other registered candidates are not trusted to lead by some voters and encourages elected officials to better market their campaigns and reach all constituents. SA elections should include the option for students to write in the candidate they want.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.