Following a year of electoral upsets within the Georgetown University Student Association, GUSA’s much-needed Election Reform Task Force had plenty of fodder for its report presented at the GUSA senate meeting March 19. The year saw the invalidation of results from the Dec. 1 club funding reform referendum, and GUSA President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) and Vice President Jessica Andino’s (COL ’18) narrow 34-vote victory in February’s executive election.
The task force’s recommendations demonstrate that the organization has engaged in a genuinely introspective approach to electoral reform and seeks to address long-standing issues of inaccessibility and insularity. Among the proposed measures in the two-page document, the task force proposed hosting executive election information sessions before winter break, in part to educate “outsider” candidates without much prior knowledge of the process. They also support releasing a voter guide with candidate statements, referendum descriptions and voting instructions, as well as improving engagement with less frequently reached communities to create a more inclusive, representative GUSA.
While the task force’s proposals largely addressed fallout from the referendum in December, we propose a similar group to examine potential alternatives to the ranked voting system.
The Mack-Andino ticket’s narrow victory over Garet Williams (COL ’18) and Habon Ali (SFS ’18) spotlighted how political maneuvering could clinch a winning campaign through GUSA’s preferential electoral system, which allows students to rank candidates if their first choice is eliminated in subsequent rounds.
Mack and Andino, who had secured a cross-endorsement from the third-place ticket of John Matthews (COL ’18) and Nick Matz (COL ’18), trailed behind Williams-Ali by more than a hundred votes through the third elimination round, only to inch ahead by 34 votes when the Matthews-Matz ticket was removed.
This preferential voting system proves problematic when students are unaware of how the system works, potentially altering the results of the election. With the rankings, students may be under the false impression they must rank all candidates for their votes to be counted. While a wide-reaching public awareness campaign could explain the rationale and make the election system more reflective of student opinions, introducing a more intuitive run-off or primary system – which pits the first- and second-place tickets against each other if no one attains a simple majority – would remedy rather than reduce the problem.
The recommendations also clearly address problems that arose following the December referendum and propose the ability of the GUSA senate to endorse a stance in referendums. If truly committed to reforming the electoral system, however, GUSA ought to expand upon these recommendations by revising its ranking system in executive elections as well.
A focus of the report presented March 19 was the proposition that the senate as a body may take a stance on referendums without invalidating the results, suggesting that the GUSA senate require a five-sixths majority to officially endorse constitutional referendums.
The proposal also begins to address the problems presented by the Dec. 1 club funding reform referendum, which led to allegations systemic interference at polling stations by GUSA’s proponents of the measure. Creating parity in regulations of referendums and the executive election would bind referendum partisans to the finance and endorsement guidelines that executive candidates must follow. This consistency would help ensure a more transparent, fair voting process.
Referendums gauge the student body’s opinion on pertinent issues. The institution of a transparent endorsement process enables students to make more informed opinions. Senators are students, and the GUSA senate are students who should maintain their rights to have their voices heard in the referendum process, but regulations should clarify potential biases in this process.
In cases like club funding reform, members of the senate are the best versed and most equipped to help students understand the merits and shortfalls of proposals, so their voices should be clearly heard as part of the electoral process so long as biases are clearly presented and recommendations are made in good faith and without corruption. All of these considerations have been made by the task force’s proposals.
The editorial board acknowledges and applauds the GUSA task force’s recommendations to make elections more transparent and accessible to different communities on campus. As such, we propose that the association act on the task force’s recommendations. By examining the preferential ranking system during the executive election and acting on measures to ensure transparency in the organization’s stances during referendums, GUSA can be held more accountable to the desires of the student body.
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