Op-ed: A new SA runoff election would be undemocratic

Ethan Davis, a junior, is a political science and economics major.

Former Student Association presidential candidate Hannah Edwards’ proposal to hold another runoff election subsequent to the ranked-choice election that has already been held is fundamentally undemocratic.

Edwards filed this injunction after current SA President Brandon Hill was named victor of the 2021 SA election, claiming that 61.4 percent of the student body will not see their first-choice candidate elected. But she ignored the reality that if she were elected, that number would rise to 77.5 percent given the current election results. Edwards believes that since the SA has no rules about an incumbent running, a so-called “incumbency advantage” that Hill possessed merits reviewing the election and revising election procedure.

This advantage in reality likely had a minimal impact on the election. As many political science students know, the incumbency advantage largely rests on three main components: legislative accomplishments, resources of the office and name recognition. Hill’s legislative accomplishments did not play into his campaign because his time as an incumbent was not long enough to achieve any such notable victories. As president of the SA, there were very few, if any, resources that were at Hill’s disposal to give his campaign an unfair advantage. The only component of the incumbency advantage that Hill may have possessed was name recognition.

But any aspect of the incumbency advantage is at no fault to Hill. The burden of overcoming the incumbency advantage was on Edwards’ campaign, and hers alone — and she failed. But even if Hill had an insurmountable advantage because of his position, the Joint Elections Commission and SA should not alter election rules based on an extraordinarily rare circumstance. As Edwards notes in her own petition, the last time an incumbent ran was in 1987.

Edwards misused political phenomena like the incumbency advantage to make her case for a separate runoff, but much of the academic literature in the realm of political science undermines the overall case she is trying to make. The only aspect of the current process that will really change in a secondary runoff election is voter turnout, which tends to be lower in runoff elections. In fact, this is one of the main issues that ranked-choice voting addresses. Researchers have found that ranked-choice voting “helps reduce the substantial drop in voter participation that commonly occurs between primary and runoff elections.”

Looking at our University’s history, even in the highly energized runoff between former SA presidential candidates SJ Matthews and Justin Diamond in 2019, 240 fewer people participated than in the general election. Subsequent elections have been nowhere near as exciting or captivating to the student body. I voted for Hill as my second choice, and with good reason, but if there were a runoff between only him and Edwards – two similar and uncontroversial candidates – then a significant number of voters (primarily those of SA Sen. Charles Aborisade, U-at-Large, and junior Christian Zidouemba along with students that were not all that enthusiastic about any candidate) would likely not participate.

I am no fan of the SA, but here at GW, we do not lean toward authoritarianism. We embrace democracy and the rigor of competition that comes with it. Ranked-choice voting is perhaps one of the most democratic systems of voting to be conceived, and meddling with it because Edwards is not happy with the election results would be a grave misstep. As part of the 61.4 percent who will not see their first-choice candidate elected, I am glad I was able to put them down as my number one option and never have to place anyone above them. A separate runoff would make no difference in the representation of me or my fellow students’ vote for our favored candidates because the runoff already happened under ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice voting captures the energy of all candidates’ voting blocs, allowing for the fire of democracy to burn like no runoff election could. I call upon all SA senators and the JEC to act against any consideration to change the current voting system.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.