Student Senate Elections Need Ranked-Choice Voting

The scandal of a Student Senate president resigning before even assuming office overshadowed a wild detail about the election: the current president took office without winning an election.

We all know this bit: Video spread about, president-elect withdraws before assuming position, candidate with the next most votes is announced as the new president-elect in an email to the student body. 

The Senate offer of the position to the next candidate was much more shocking to me than the first candidate resigning. Could it really be the case that Student Senate can just take the next candidate and give them the office? It turns out that nowhere in the student senate constitution is there any requirement for the election process except that it needs to be campuswide. 

I find it shocking that this was technically within the rules—the new Student Senate president received just 29.63 percent of the votes, so is hardly the express choice of the student body. Most people did not prefer this candidate, and the result is barely democratic, with less than three in ten having their choice represented. That’s not to mention the people who had voted for the top candidate who then lost all say in the election–their votes evaporated.

But it turns out that the top candidate had only won 42.39 percent of the vote initially–they didn’t have majority support either! A convincing majority preferred someone else as their first choice—more than 57 percent. If a candidate can win the election initially with such a small portion of the vote, we might as well take the next candidate. It’s about as democratic

Good elections shouldn’t produce candidates for which only a minority have voted, even if they are for student offices at a small college. The Student Senate needs an update to the election process to ranked-choice voting, where voters rank their preferred candidates to avoid outcomes where the winner has the support of the minority of voters. This would have prevented a candidate from being elected without clear support of a majority and would have given a method to determine the president when the candidate who won resigned—the people who had that person as their first choice would have had their ballots redistributed just as if there had been a runoff between the two remaining candidates.

I don’t think my position here should cast any doubt on the second choice candidate because Chinemerem Nwanze ’23 is extremely qualified and I’m excited to have her leadership this year. I’ve been fortunate enough to have multiple classes with her and have friends who speak highly of her. She’s well-spoken and a published author. (She does report in her Student Spotlight that her favorite Caf food is the scrambled eggs, which is clearly a misjudgment and a strike against her as a representative of public opinion. Let’s choose to forgive her.) It’s exciting, too, that Dickinson will have a black woman as president of Student Senate two years in a row.

The fault lies with the rules of Student Senate—the elections rules needed amended so that the student body gets representation which matches their collective preferences. Ranked choice voting is not difficult with computers and small populations. At the university where I was studying abroad, elections for student union and all other clubs were run with ranked choice, so it’s not outside of the ability of college students. All it takes is the motivation to have fair elections, and a bit of education to root out simplistic ideas of what elections can be. Let’s find that willpower on campus and ask Student Senate to institute ranked choice voting.