New A.S. Voting System Tries to Level the Playing Field

Frances Castellon/ Staff Photographer

Gwendolyn Wu
Campus Beat Reporter

Student voters this spring may find themselves looking at a new kind of Associated Students election. The University of California, Santa Barbara’s A.S. Elections Board is working on a proposed Single Transferable Vote (STV) system that will offer students more proportional representation in student government.

When the 2015-16 A.S. Senate began meeting in fall, former On-Campus Senator Nawar Nemeh and former College of Letters & Science Senator Stevan Abdalmalik worked to create the proposed electoral system. STV allows students to rank all senate candidate choices in order of who they feel is best suited for the position and makes it easier for students to run as individuals, while UCSB’s current First Past the Post (FPTP) system only allows students to rank five choices and makes it easier for more established parties to hold office.

A.S. Senate passed A Bill to Switch Associated Students Elections to a Single Transferable Vote System on Oct. 15. The STV system is currently in use at UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles and UC San Diego, as well as governments in the English-speaking world.

Nemeh, along with Elections Board Chair and third-year economics major Avery Chamberlain and A.S. Assistant Director for Technology Sean Lieberman, prepared a presentation on the finalized system for the Wed., Feb. 24 senate meeting detailing how it would be carried out. Using a model from UC Berkeley’s spring 2015 elections, Chamberlain, Lieberman and Nemeh showed a real-time simulation of how senators would be elected to their positions.

Online voting would go on for a 4-day period, as it has in the past. Votes would be tallied at one elections rally at the end, and candidates would see themselves get elected and eliminated in real-time. Under this new system, a student could rank Senate Candidate A first, Senate Candidate B second and Senate Candidate C third. If Senate Candidate A reached the minimum quota of votes before the student’s vote is counted, that vote would transfer to the student’s second choice. Should the second choice have been elected already, it transfers again until it is counted. In this live vote count, a candidate who earns too few votes proportional to the amount cast are dropped from the race, and their votes are redistributed the way mentioned above.

Some senators are concerned that the system favors those who vote first, punishing candidates who become second choices. To this, the trio stated that there were aspects of the STV system not yet fleshed out, and asked for the senate’s help in picking a fair way to modify elections.

UC Regent and former California State Assembly Speaker John Pérez, who was on campus to reach out to students that same day, stopped by the senate meeting with Chancellor Henry Yang. In a short speech to the Senate, he commented on the STV system proposal.

“It was interesting hearing about the proposal of a new voting system,” Pérez, who chaired the state’s Voting Modernization Board in the wake of the Bush v. Gore voting controversy in 2000, said. “I’m particularly interested to see that you modeled some of this off of the Berkeley model. When I was a student there, we did old-fashioned paper ballots with ranked voting, and it took about three days to tabulate all the votes and figure out who won the senate seats. Having an automated system is a huge improvement.”

With the establishment of three new political parties on campus (Campus United, Peer Action Coalition and The Response), passage of this new system could be crucial for occupying the senate and executive offices with independent candidates and candidates from all parties on campus, rather than only those of one party. Following last year’s near-sweep by the Open People’s Party, politically active students are hungry to see change in the system.

“We’re in a dilapidated system, and I think there’s been ulterior motives, and I don’t think that’s a good place to be when we’re in public service,” Catt Phan, a second-year global studies major and caseworker in the Office of the Student Advocate General, said at the Oct. 15 meeting. “We don’t work in A.S., we serve in A.S. … People are in line to voice their opinions and we’re shutting the door on them.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that voting goes on for three days. Voting goes on for four days.

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.