Undergraduate Student Government has proposed a resolution to change the way Ohio State students can elect their representatives to ensure that a candidate receiving the majority vote wins.
Currently, students vote through a plurality system, known as “first-past-the-post,” meaning each student has one vote to cast on one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. The resolution is recommending that the system be changed to a ranked-choice voting system, allowing students to order each candidate by preference. As of right now, the new voting system is only being implemented in the USG presidential race.
“With our current system, you only get one vote and one voice,” said Joseph Warnimont, a third-year in aerospace engineering and the senator sponsoring the resolution. “By allowing you to rank your other candidates in order of preference, you can cast a much more nuanced ballot and cast votes for people who may not have as good of a chance at winning as other candidates.”
This new system would ensure that a candidate receives majority vote, going as far as holding multiple elimination steps for opponents in the election if one official does not get more than 50 percent after the first voting ranks are in. Of the 50 elections USG has held since 1967, 36 candidates have won without receiving the majority vote, instead having received the largest plurality.
“If after counting first-place votes, no candidate receives a majority of votes, the candidate receiving the least votes is eliminated,” Warnimont said of the proposal. “Ballots cast to that candidate then go to their second-highest ranked choice.”
He said that if no candidate has the majority after this step, then the process will continue until one person wins.
“It’s not that I think plurality voting doesn’t represent the student body,” Sophie Chang, a third- year in environment, economy, development and sustainability, and the director of USG’s health and safety committee said. “It’s based on the fact that one team should be able to get the majority, so that way the student body is adequately represented.”
The resolution states that under the current system, “Even if a voter supports multiple candidates’ views, they may only cast a single vote,” which the resolution’s sponsors said discourages candidates with similar views from running, resulting in a limited choice for voters.
Some USG constituents don’t see this new system as a more inclusive approach, however.
Tony Buss, a fourth-year in English and director of diversity and inclusion for USG, voted “no” on the resolution in general assembly because he did not think it would represent everyone.
“I think there are a lot of situations where the true majority could get ousted based on how students rank their vote, and, because of those scenarios, I didn’t want to risk it,” Buss said. “But, if people think this is more inclusive approach, then I’m willing to see how it goes.”
The resolution must first go through two more steps before being considered a concrete change in USG voting.
Gerard Basalla, president of USG and a fourth-year in political science and strategic communications, said that the resolution will now be reviewed by the organization’s judicial panel after receiving a positive majority in the general assembly. If the panel agreed to the resolution’s recommendation of a new voting system, the panel will make those changes in the election rules and regulations.
Warnimont does not see this step as an issue.
“The legislative branch has strongly voiced support for ranked-choice voting, and I look forward to sharing that opinion with the judicial panel and working with them on an implementation,” he said.
This is not the last step of the process, however. If the judicial panel were to make these changes, the new system would be brought back to the general assembly to review and approve. With this, the ranked system might be used in the Spring 2017 elections.
If the resolution is passed, OSU students would be educated on this new process via explanatory videos, tweets, posters and other teaching tools.
“This is definitely a huge change, it’s a huge change in the model and hopefully it will be more fair for students,” Basalla said.