GUSA election reform

January 29, 2009

Two years after it was last reformed, the system for electing the Georgetown University Student Association President is once again changing. The new system, devised by GUSA’s Ways and Means Committee, will no longer use the instant-runoff voting (IRV) system, which some blamed for the confusion in last year’s presidential election. Instead, GUSA will hold a primary election between all the candidates and then a run-off between the two candidates that receive the most votes in the primary.

Last year, controversy erupted over unclear voting instructions which left voters unsure about whether they had to rank all nine candidates for GUSA President in order of preference, or simply as many or as few as they supported. A strong correlation was observed between position on the ballot and the number of votes received by candidates in later rounds. The GUSA Senate refused to certify the first election, opting to hold a second round of voting.

“What we saw last year was that after people voted for their first, second, third candidates, they went alphabetically down the list,” current GUSA President Pat Dowd (SFS ‘09) said. “We had someone [D.W. Cartier (COL ‘09)] who was in fourth place prevail in the first round of voting. It was a big mess.”

In a Ways and Means Committee meeting last Friday, Brian Wood (COL ‘09), Vice Speaker of the Senate, explained that the point of using IRV was to have a candidate win with the majority of the vote.

This year, GUSA will hold a primary on the last Tuesday of February. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will compete in a runoff a few days later.

“We were really just codifying what happened last year,” Speaker of the Senate Reggie Greer (COL ‘09) said.

Putting last year’s changes into writing turned out to be easier said than done. At a GUSA meeting Wednesday night, numerous senators spoke in favor if IRV.

“The main issue [with last year’s election] was not the IRV system, the main issue was the clarity of the ballot,” Senator Matt Wagner said.  “If the instructions on the ballot are clear and you have a preference down to the 8th choice, I think you should be able to make that choice known. By having a plural election and then a runoff between top two vote-getters, you’ll just lose turnout.”

In the end, the Senate voted 13-10 with one abstention in favor of a plurality system. Other changes to election bylaws passed the Senate by a larger margin, including the appointing of election commissioners and the striking of some campaign regulations.

During this election, there will be three Election Commissioners, instead of just one as in years past.  This year’s Commissioners will be Sophia Behnia (COL ‘09), the Senior Class Treasurer, Fred Moore (COL ‘09) and Will Dreher (SFS ‘09), who were appointed by Dowd and approved by the GUSA Senate at the Wednesday meeting.

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