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Runoff elections could be discarded

If a new bill passes Student Congress, students might have witnessed in February the last student body president runoff in UNC history.

Members of the rules and judiciary committee are tweaking legislation that could change the way students elect the person who serves as their representative to the administration and the voice of the student body.

The bill questions whether runoff elections result in a vote that is truly “representative of the intent of the student body” and proposes a new method.

Student Body President Jasmin Jones, who won in 2009 in a runoff election, has said she will veto the bill if it comes to her desk.

The legislation, which was discussed at Monday’s Congress meeting but sent back to the rules and judiciary committee for further work, would ask voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

Computer software will then identify the candidate with the most overall support.

The process would occur in one night, eliminating the need for a runoff election a week later.

“I think students would like it because it would cut out a week of campaigning,” said Congress Speaker Dakota Williams. “It would take a culture shift to try something new, but I think it would be for the best.”

With the proposed system, voters would rank each of the candidates in order of preference.

If no candidate won a majority, as is required under student elections law in the Student Code, the votes for the last candidate would be reallocated.

If a student’s top choice was the candidate who came in last place, that vote would be thrown out, and the second-ranked candidate would receive the student’s vote instead.

This process would continue until one candidate had received a majority of votes.

Those who support the bill said it would also save at least $200 that the runoff candidates receive to campaign.

A similar voting system was implemented at N.C. State University in 2008.

Greg Doucette, president of the UNC-system Association of Student Governments and former N.C. State student body president, said the switch was well-received by the student body.

“Other than making sure users were educated, it was very popular and substantially cut down on campaigning time, which was great for everyone,” he said.

But Jones, who gained the support of four eliminated candidates in 2009 to overcome a 20 percent deficit in the general election against Thomas Edwards, said she thinks there is value to the runoff process.

“Honestly, I disagree with the bill,” she said. “I don’t think it is how we traditionally run elections here.”

Edwards, who said he comes to the table with an understandable bias, said he thought the idea would benefit the student body.

“If you talk to anyone on campus or the candidates, they would all be happy to have the election be a week shorter,” he said.

Williams said he was fairly confident the bill will pass when it comes back to Student Congress on March 23.

“I think people would be willing to pass it, but they wanted those little things hammered out in committee so it will be perfect,” Williams said.

If Congress passes the bill and Jones vetoes it, a two-thirds vote by Congress would be necessary to override the veto and make it law.

“Now that would be an interesting situation,” Williams said. “We’ll have to see how it turns out.”

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