SGA Senate Passes Elections Reform Bill

By Will DiGravio

On Feb. 21, the Student Government Association [SGA] passed a bylaws amendment to reform the organization’s election procedures. The bill, written by SGA Director of Membership Zak Fisher ’16, and sponsored by SGA President Ilana Gratch ’16, eliminated the use of single-transferable-vote (STV) and instant-runoff  (IRV) voting, and replaced them with a winner-take-all system.

In past elections, the SGA has used IRV and STV systems for which voters rank their preferred candidates for any given position. The procedures are designed to attain proportional representation in the election process.

With an STV system, if the voter’s preferred candidate has no chance of being elected, the vote is transferred to their second choice, and the process continues until the winner(s) are determined. It also ensures that if a candidate receives a higher percentage of the vote than necessary to win, the excess vote is redistributed. STV is complemented by an IRV system, which dictates that when a candidate fails to receive a determined percentage of the vote, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated and their votes are redistributed. This process continues until a winner emerges.

It is the belief of the SGA Elections Council that these systems, as worded in the bill, resulted in “misinformation and confusion” amongst the electorate.

“I think, generally, students didn’t understand the old election procedures,” Fisher said. “There were false understandings of ‘strategic advantages’ that could have adversely affected the election returns and polluted the legitimacy of those returns.

According to Fisher, the need for reform became apparent when, at the beginning of this academic year, not one senator felt they could adequately explain the system. “When the people who are elected, the people who, theoretically, are most motivated to understand it, don’t understand it, we have a problem,” he said.

The past electoral system also presented logistical issues. It took far longer to tally the results, making it more prone to mistakes. Fisher explained that during the old process, as more rounds of voting were needed, the likelihood that an election would result in a tie increased.

It is the hope of the SGA that the new process, a winner-take-all system, will make elections far more efficient and easier to grasp. In the new structure, candidates in single-member constituencies will win solely for achieving the highest number of votes. In multi-member constituencies, such as class senator elections, the two candidates who get the most votes will win.

The bill was approved by the Senate just four days before the election of the new 2019.5 senators, giving the new system a chance to prove its effectiveness. Febs had the opportunity to select two senators from a field of three candidates, in which Rae Aaron ’19.5 and Sebastian Grandas ’19.5 emerged victorious.

Fisher said that it took him five minutes to tally the votes and, within half an hour, the results had been relayed to Gratch and the student body.

“For as long as I’ve been at [the College] and involved in SGA in some capacity, I’ve witnessed the great deal of confusion that surrounds SGA elections. To be sure, the instant run-off/single transferable vote system is a sound one, but given that so few students actually understand its intricacies, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to use the system at [the College],” Gratch said. “I’m excited that we now have a voting system that is more accessible to the general student body.”

These procedural changes may not be the only reforms that the Senate makes this year. At present, they are examining legislation to shift the timeline of the general elections and drafting solutions to deal with elections that may end in a tie.