This spring’s campus-wide student elections will rely on a new voting system approved by Student Government last February.
The single transferable voting system, which requires students to rank candidates, will replace the current system in which students cast a single vote for a single candidate.
As candidates with low votes are removed from the ballot, students’ votes will be redistributed to their second choice and possibly third choice. Benjamin Solder, speaker of the assembly, said single transferable voting is a “more proportional” and “more reflective” system that does not result in runoff elections, which were seen in past campus elections.
“It’s another way for us to eliminate runoff elections. By … collecting voters’ second-choice preferences and moving their votes as needed as part of the vote tabulation, instead of making everybody vote again,” neuroscience senior Solder said.
Single transferable voting initially failed to pass in SG in February, but the constitutional amendment was approved later that week after Solder reintroduced it. The student body then voted in its favor. The system also needed to be confirmed by UT President Gregory Fenves, the Dean of Students, University Unions, the University Co-op, Texas Student Media and the Graduate Student Assembly.
“Dean of Students had approved of it, and Dean of Students actually has the power to just skip the other entities’ approval, so the other four entities never got to vote on STV,” Solder said. “Dean Lilly liked it so much that she said, ‘Yes, we’re doing this.’”
Morgan Lawless, president of Longhorns for Voting Reform, wrote a computer program that the Dean of Students will use for the new voting system. While that program was ready by this past fall’s first-year elections, Solder said it was not implemented because Fenves had not yet given his approval. Fenves’ signature was obtained in early December, Solder said.
Countries such as Ireland and Australia have used single transferable voting, and Lawless said he stands behind its positive track record.
“Cities have used this for a while with great success, and Maine actually just adopted rank choice voting for their congressional elections,” said Lawless, a computer science and Plan II senior. “We thought that it would be great to kind of introduce people to this system of voting through Student Government elections, and lots of other universities do this as well.”
Student Body President Colton Becker said single transferable voting is a “step in the right direction” in regard to solving issues that may stem from runoff elections. Becker experienced a runoff in his election last spring.
“Our election, unfortunately, wasn’t the first time that the runoff has been extended multiple times, and we definitely saw the worst of what runoff is,” nutrition senior Becker said.
Despite his experiences, Becker said runoffs can be beneficial for lesser-known candidates, such as those not involved in Greek life. He said he is approaching the change impartially, albeit with concerns.
“I’m a little concerned about there being a built-in advantage for students who are running that come from well-populated subcommunities on campus that tend to vote based on people who share similar lifestyles, identities, things like that,” Becker said. “In the era of identity politics, that poses some concerning implications. But we don’t know yet for sure what’s going to happen because we haven’t seen it, so I’m trying to approach this with an open mind.”