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Voting system change falls short in finance board, but could end up on the ballot

The Student Government Association is currently considering a new approach to voting. Rather than the standard majority wins voting system, the instant run off voting system is currently being considered for placement on the student ballot.

Proposed by SGA Senator Evan Leiter-Mason, the new system is meant to show a more representative vote of the student body than the traditional voting system currently in place. With the current voting system, students only vote for one candidate. With instant run off, students rank as many candidates as they choose in order of preference.

“Say that there are three candidates and you rank them one, two, three or just one, two if you only have a strong opinion about two of the candidates,” Leiter-Mason explained. “Then what happens is that we take the distribution of the first ranked votes and we see how many people ranked this candidate first, that candidate first, etc.”

“We take the candidate who has the least support in terms of first rank votes and we eliminate them and we redistribute their votes to the next preference of the voters who voted for them. This only happens if no candidate has the majority in the beginning. It’s done to ensure that we can assess which candidate has the most broad support in the population.”

In order to gauge the response of the student body to the new election system, SGA Senator Sarah Lilly posted a survey on myUMBC on March 23.

As of March 29, the survey had approximately 410 responses with 216 for the new system and 203 against it. However, the survey was not a representative sample of the student body and issues arose surrounding its validity.

SGA Treasurer and Presidential Candidate Tristan Oetker made his opinion of the new voting system known via email to select members of the student body. In it, Oetker urged students to “make their voice heard” and wrote that “[SGA] believe that UMBC students will blindly let this pass without any opposition.”

“The biggest issues I have with this system is there aren’t a lot of schools that do this, we’re in the United States, the standard for elections is that the person with the most amount of votes deserves to win and I still feel strongly about that,” said Oetker in defense of his actions.

However, Oetker’s biggest concern is that students cannot vote on the issue.

“If you put it on the ballot then every single student that votes in the SGA election will have a say on whether or not they want this system,” Oetker continued, “It doesn’t matter whose side you’re on or who you vote for. It’s a yes or no question and that’s real data that is effective data because it’s the voice of everyone who actually votes in the SGA election and is making the decision on how they would like the system.”

“I have a lot of respect for Tristan. I think that he’s really committed to his job and the organization and to representing students and campus democracy,” said Leiter-Mason in response to Oetker’s email, “…but I think it represented a bad faith gesture on his part not to allow the survey to kind of really represent what students think about the system. I think it was motivated by his political interest and the outcome of the vote and not by a good faith desire to see how students really feel about implementing the system.”

Oetker’s email was not the only incident. SGA Senator Joshua Massey along with Senators Evan Leiter-Mason, Sarah Lilly, and Collin Sullivan began to noticed a spike in negative responses to the myUMBC survey.

“I noticed that a friend of mine completed the poll in one of the long trends of negative responses and I decided to ask them if there was anything they did not understand or if their vote was coerced in any way. After having a conversation with that individual, I did not further inquire into the issue,” said Massey.

Election Board Chair Robert Caverly addressed the issue on Tuesday, March 29, Finance Board Meeting and declined to comment on how he obtained this information. However, the student did not submit an anonymous complaint to the election board.

Although the issue of bias and lack of student anonymity were introduced into the survey, positive responses were received from the student body with an overarching opinion that the new system could be fairer than its predecessor.

Although current SGA President candidate Bentley Corbett-Wilson does not have a specific opinion of the new voting system at this time, he is inclined to be in favor of it.

“I believe that it’s very interesting to have someone in an executive position that received only 30 percent of votes, meaning they don’t necessarily have the majority of the student body’s best interest in mind,” said Corbett-Wilson.

”Ultimately, however, I believe that up until recently, the current voting system has never been an issue. The new voting system only sprung up because it seemed to be a quick fix for recent happenings over the past few years, and I have faith that soon, those kinds of issues won’t be a problem anymore.”

Speaker of the SGA Senate William Rice said, “I believe that the new voting system will help to give a greater sense of legitimacy to the elected officials, as they will now be elected by a majority, rather than just a plurality. I anticipate growing pains, but if the student body is in favor of this new system, I think it will be a very effective way to elect student representatives.”

Although the new voting system did not pass within SGA, it is currently being considered to be put on the student ballot.

Editor’s note: An initial draft of this post stated in the title that the new voting system failed to pass in the senate. It in fact failed to pass in the finance board. Additionally, Tristan Oetker was not listed as a presidential candidate, but is running for SGA president this year.