Elections Code Reform: On-campus Senators Seek to Fix Voting and Party Systems


Gwendolyn Wu
AS Beat Reporter

The first Associated Students Senate meeting of the year convened on Sept. 30 in the Flying A Room, where a number of bills regarding elections code reform were introduced. Among them were proposals that would change the voting system, campaign season length, and tabulation of write-in ballots.

On-Campus Senator Nawar Nemeh and College of Letters & Science Senator Stevan Abdalmalik compiled five bills that would change how the AS elections process works. Following in the footsteps of UC Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, and the voting system for AS executive offices here at UCSB, the two co-authored A Bill to Switch Associated Students Elections to a Single Transferable Vote System (STVS), which allows students to rank their choices for an elected office. Currently, the electoral system in place (entitled “First Past the Post” or FPTP) states that the candidate who receives the most votes in an election automatically wins.

If, for example, candidate A receives 40 percent of the vote, candidate B receives 35 percent and candidate C receives 25 percent, candidate A would be elected with less than half of the votes while the majority of the votes went to candidates B and C combined.

“FPTP supports larger, older, and more established parties over smaller, newer, and less known parties on the campus because it makes it harder for incumbents to lose elections, thus disenfranchising voters in smaller constituencies such as the College of Engineering, the College of Creative Studies, and the University-owned apartments constituency,” Nemeh wrote in the resolution. “FPTP encourages parties to pick a “safe” and electable slate, rather than a competent and efficient slate.”

Under STVS, which would benefit Senate most, if candidates A, B and C are running with the same percentages from the example above, candidate C will be dropped from the race. However, as voters will have ranked their second choice, the votes for candidate C will go to the voters’ second choices. If 20 of the 25 percent of votes for candidate C picked candidate B as their second choice, that 20 percent will go to B, who will then hold the majority of the votes, and win the election. This is to ensure that voters’ decisions continue to go to those they believe represent them the best, rather than use their vote to pick who they believe is the most popular candidate.

“This helps independents in a system run by parties, where parties have so much power, and any independent has a far less chance of getting their name out there,” said Abdalmalik. “This system will actually allow the student body the choice to vote for independents as their second, third or even first choice.”

Another key piece of legislation that the pair introduced at Senate was A Bill to Update Article XIX Section 2 of the Associated Students Legal Code, which allows student government parties to register as political campus life organizations with the Office of Student Life. The bill allows advisers to sit on the parties’ meetings, providing students who feel unsafe, stressed out, or lost with a resource to speak with during the elections process.

Elections code currently assumes that parties are only active from week six of winter quarter to week four of spring quarter, when elections are held. However, this is often not true, as parties organize informally constantly throughout the year. “We all know that parties are, to somewhat extent, active before, active after, and active over summer, because it’s natural,” said Nemeh. “Because it is our right to politically organize at any time we want.”

Nemeh also shared concerns about the “swarming” of tabling and campaigning that occurs during that period of time, and the mental health of students within the parties. He assured that the groups will still be allowed to freely assemble, as the adviser will not be present at every meeting, while students may still reach out to them. The bill additionally expands the role of Elections Committee to oversee political organization all year round, and does not ban individual organizations from endorsing parties year round.

“It won’t be a popularity contest,” said Nemeh in an interview with The Bottom Line. “This legislation will help independents because it’ll give them more of a chance to put their faces out there and it will keep parties under tighter regulations.”

Additional bills discussed included A Bill to Update Article XIX Section 4 of the Associated Students Legal Code, which lengthens the period of elections recruitment and adds campaign restrictions; A Bill to Update Article XIX Section 5 of the Associated Students Legal Code, which adjusts all campaign finances regarding donations and fundraisers; and A Bill to Update Article XIX Section 6 of the Associated Students Legal Code, which clarifies the rules surrounding write-in candidates.

All five bills were tabled for the following week.

This article has been updated to reflect current information.

Gwendolyn Wu is a third year double majoring in history and sociology, and is the 2016-2017 Executive Content Editor of The Bottom Line. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley and attended Cleveland High School, and is interested in pursuing journalism as a career. When not poring over history books, she's watching Cutthroat Kitchen and mentoring first year students.