Instant Runoff Voting

ASCCC Parliamentarian
Standards & Practices Committee Chair

At the Fall 2019 ASCCC Plenary Session, the delegates passed Resolution 1.02, titled “Adopt Instant Runoff Voting,” as an ASCCC Rules and Procedures amendment, changing section I.G to incorporate Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), which will now be used at each spring’s plenary session when voting takes place for officers and representatives. The previous system used for these elections involved re-voting during the session for any election in which no candidate received a majority of the eligible votes cast. This practice meant taking the top two vote getters’ names, printing new ballots for the runoff, interrupting the resolutions debate to hand out and collect ballots, and then requiring the elections committee to conduct another count before declaring a winner. Such elections have often taken significant time during the plenary session, even going well beyond the debate time after all resolutions have been decided upon. At that point—sometimes as late as 5:00 p.m.—some delegates have had to depart in order to be on time for flights home, but the voting was still continuing. The effect of Resolution 1.02 F19 will be to significantly shorten the total time needed for all of the elections without sacrificing any of the accuracy of the results.

The cities of both Oakland and San Francisco use an instant runoff voting system for their mayoral, council, supervisor, and city officials elections, a procedure that they term as “Ranked Choice Voting.” While the Academic Senate can employ a runoff ballot on the same day during the plenary session, those two cities had to run a separate vote a month after the initial election between the top two vote getters for each office. The added cost of a second election—and the significantly lower voter turnout the second time around—justified adopting the ranked choice voting system where only one day of voting and only one ballot is needed. In the same way, delegates at the spring ASCCC plenary session will see a significant time improvement with the new instant runoff system.

To demonstrate the way the IRV system works, we may consider a hypothetical example of four candidates running for At-Large Representative: Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Ms. Peacock and Prof. Plum. In the former system, each delegate would cast one vote for his or her preferred candidate. All of the votes were then tallied. If no candidate received the required 51 percent majority—for example, if 100 votes were cast and White had 22 votes, Green 41, Peacock 20, and Plum 17—then the two highest vote getters, White and Green, would be announced as taking part in a runoff and new ballots would have to be printed for distribution. If a delegate voted initially for Mrs. White, that delegate would likely vote for her again over Mr. Green in the second balloting, and then the delegates would wait for the final tally to determine the winner. If most of the Peacock and Plum voters chose to vote for White as their second choice rather than Green, then White might likely be the winner. However, if at least 10 of the 37 Peacock and Plum voters chose Green, then he would win. Every delegate had the opportunity to vote for his or her preferred candidate in the first balloting and then repeat that vote or, if the first choice was not in the runoff, choose between the two remaining candidates in the second balloting. Allowing every delegate to be fully enfranchised required the extra time to print, distribute, and count ballots potentially twice for each election. This process sometimes took a half hour out of the resolutions debate for each contested election.

In the newly-adopted IRV system, one set of ballots will be prepared with each of the candidate names and a space for a ranked choice. Thus, given the same hypothetical scenario, a delegate might vote for Mrs. White as the first preference, Ms. Peacock as the second preference, and Prof. Plum as the third preference. Each delegate will so rank the choices in order. The key is that as long as the first preference candidate is still in the running, the delegate’s vote remains with that candidate. However, given again the above numbers, out of 100 votes cast, a situation may well occur in which no candidate receives a majority of 51 first preference votes. Thus, without having to prepare a separate second ballot, the lowest vote getter of 1st preferences—in this case, Plum with 17 votes—will be dropped from consideration. All of the ballots that had Plum listed as first choice will then be distributed to the other three remaining candidates based on those ballots’ second choices. Some of Plum’s votes will likely go to White, some to Green, and some to Peacock, adding to the totals already counted for those three candidates. This method differs from the former system, under which only the two candidates with the highest number of initial votes would be considered in a run-off.

Of the hypothetical 100 ballots, a candidate still needs 51 votes to win election. Therefore, if no one receives a majority after the second count, then the lowest remaining vote-getter is also dropped and his or her votes are redistributed to those ballots’ second preference or, if the second choice has already been eliminated, to the third preference. Now, with only two candidates remaining, the winner will be the one with the greater number of votes during the third count, and thus the entire run-off election is accomplished with but a single balloting.

Note that Mr. Green is not guaranteed victory even though he led after the first round of voting. Just as with a head-to-head runoff with newly prepared ballots where Mrs. White could prevail on the second balloting, so too, when second—or third—choices are factored in, any of the other candidates could eventually surpass Green’s total. Again, the key is that the delegate’s first preference choice will always receive that delegate’s vote as long as that candidate remains in the running. When that candidate drops out, the delegate is, in effect, asked who the next choice would be, and the vote then transfers to that candidate. The delegate’s vote then remains with that candidate until he or she is dropped and the next choice receives the vote going forward.

The IRV system is accurate, easy to manage, and a definite time saver since one ballot will suffice. This system is used by the Academy Awards to choose the Oscar for best picture of the year. Eligible voters from around the country submit a single ballot with their best picture choices ranked from first through whatever number is on the ballot. Using ranked choice voting, no need exists to send out repeated ballots to cull the total number of nominated movies down to the one Oscar winner. The balloting is computed through the instant runoff method, with the lowest vote-getter eliminated after each round of counting and with those ballots being transferred to the voter’s next choice.

Therefore, during the spring plenary session voting, the needed time for all of the voting should be significantly shortened. If delegates or local senates have any questions along regarding this process, they should not hesitate to ask one of the authors of this article for assistance before or during the plenary session.