20 Years of Choice Voting in ASUCD

2023 marks 20 years since Choice Voting was approved by students at UC Davis for use in ASUCD elections.

Choice Voting Amendment

In November and December 2002, the Davis College Greens (the formal name for the Green Party at UC Davis) and other proponents of change began petitioning to get an ASUCD Constitutional Amendment on the ballot for the Winter 2003 ASUCD election.

This Constitutional Amendment would change ASUCD elections to use a ranked choice voting system which would address some of the issues that the existing voting system had produced.

The Old ASUCD Electoral Systems

Executive Election Changes

At the time, the executive elections (President and Vice-President tickets) used a traditional runoff system. If no ticket received over 50% of the votes, then a second election, a runoff election, was held at a later date and voters chose between the two tickets who received the most votes in the first election.

With the new system, an Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system would be used. Voters would rank the executive tickets and if no ticket received over 50% of the votes, the ticket with the fewest votes would be eliminated and their votes would be transferred to those voter’s next preferred ticket. This process would continue until a ticket received over 50% of the votes.

This change would eliminate the need for a potential second election.

Senate Election Changes

Senate elections at the time were split between Fall and Winter. Each election, 6 Senators were elected. In each election, voters could vote for up to six candidates. The six Senate candidates with the most votes would win. This often resulted in extremely lopsided election results. If one slate was slightly more popular than another, they could win 100% of the Senate seats with just over 50% of the votes.

During a Choice Voting election, instead of voters having six votes to distribute, they would rank the Senate candidates. A simple formula is used to determine how many votes each candidate needs to be elected. For a typical Senate election with six Senators elected, a candidate needs slightly over 14% of the vote to get a seat. The candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and their votes are transferred to the voter’s next preferred candidate. This happens until all seats have been filled.

This change was expected to make it easier for independent candidates to be elected and to result in a more representative Senate that would not be dominated by a single slate/party.

Choice Voting Amendment

After collecting 2,000 signatures in two weeks, the Choice Voting Amendment was on the ballot for the Winter 2003 ASUCD election. The campaign then shifted to getting the amendment passed. This campaign was led by the UC Davis Green Party with support from like-minded individuals.

On February 20, 2003, ASUCD voters passed the Choice Voting Amendment with 67% support. The new system was set to be used in the next ASUCD election.

Choice Voting Elections

After the first two elections with Choice Voting implemented, the ASUCD Senate had 6 Student Focus Senators, 5 LEAD Senators, and 1 Independent Senator. This was a significant change from previous Senates that often had a single slate/party dominating it with possibly 1 or 2 Senators from another slate/party.

In the years since, Choice Voting has helped to ensure that if a diverse group of candidates run for Senate, then a diverse Senate will be elected. There has not been a single election in the past 20 years where one slate/party has won every seat in the Senate.

ASUCD is currently conducting its 40th election using Choice Voting. When this voting reform was first implemented, it was a fight to keep it around as it was opposed by many within ASUCD at the time. I believe that 20 years of data has shown that Choice Voting is effective at creating a legislative body that reflects the will of the voters.

My hope is that a generation of ASUCD presidents, senators, commissioners, committee members, and voters will carry this knowledge with them as they move into other political arenas and become supporters and advocates for electoral reform.

Better elections are possible and ASUCD has shown that for 20 years. Here’s to another 20 years!