Countback Amendment


In the Fall 2005 election the Countback Amendment appeared as a ballot measure. The measure passed and it amended the ASUCD Constitution to change the way vacancies on the ASUCD Senate were filled. Prior to the Countback Amendment, ASUCD Senate vacancies were filled by Presidential appointments. The Countback Amendment preserves this method but only if a certain condition is not met during the Countback election.

A Countback Election works by taking all of the ballots that went to elect the Senator that needs to be replaced as well as all of the Exhausted ballots that did not go to elect any candidate during that particular election. In effect the Countback Election is designed to see who those two groups of voters would choose as their next choice if the Senator were not involved in the election.

An IRV election is then run with those ballots, skipping over already-elected candidates. The winner of the Countback Election is then elected as the new Senator. The Countback Election is a recognized method of filling vacancies democratically. The result is immediate, decisive, and fair. And unlike a single-winner special election, it preserves, as much as possible, the original cross-section of voter opinion.

To see an example of how a Countback Election can be run to fill a Senate vacancy that once occured, click here. For more details on how a Countback Election is run in ASUCD, look at the full text of the Countback Amendment below.

Update: The Countback Election method was repealed in 2018. Read my thoughts about it on the Fall 2018 election page.

Countback Amendment Text

Countback-Amendment (PDF)

Letter to the Editor #1

At the last ASUCD Senate meeting we saw two Senators resign the same night that an appointee of the ASUCD President was sworn in as an interim Senator (“Two Senators resign, Ham sworn in”). The current Constitution states that the President selects the interim Senator who is then confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate. This means that in about four months we’ll have had four unelected Senators with full voting power, which should make one begin to wonder if there is a better way. Certainly Governor Schwarzenegger will not be appointing the replacement for former Representative Matsui but instead the voters will decide. However, because of the Choice Voting system ASUCD does not even need to have a special election for Senate vacancies. We can use the data from the election which the vacating candidate was elected and immediately perform a “countback election” to let the voters decide who will fill the vacancy for the remainder of that Senator’s term. This Countback Amendment will take power from the President and give it back to the voters without costing the association the time or money for a special election.

Jonathon Leathers
President, Davis College Green Party

Letter to the Editor #2

Addressing Concerns with Countback Amendment
As the author of the Countback Amendment, I feel it is important to address the concerns put forward by the Aggie (see, Editorial: Countback Amendment). I do not believe that it should be up to the Aggie editorial board or the ASUCD President to decide whether candidates are qualified to serve as replacement Senators but instead it should be left up to the voters. With a Countback Election, the voters who elected the resigning candidate would be able to choose who is qualified by selecting their collective next choice. The concern that several candidates would decline to serve in an office that they sought less than one year prior is extremely unlikely but has been addressed in the Amendment. All possible replacement Senators must receive at least 50% of the threshold in the Countback Election to even be asked to serve. If they do not reach the 50% mark, then the President would have authority to appoint the replacement Senator. This backup prevents the unlikely possibility of going down a list and selecting someone with very little support. While resigning Senators may be the deeper issue, an undemocratic replacement process is still worth worrying about.

Jonathon Leathers
President, Davis College Green Party

The Countback Election: A Simple Explanation

by Jonathon Leathers

PDF Version

The Countback Election is a way to fill vacated Senate seats without the President appointing someone or having to hold a special election. Below is an example of how a Countback Election would fill the recent vacancies of Malik and Ruel.

  1. Once a Senator vacates, all of the non-elected candidates from the vacating Senator’s election are contacted within two days and asked if they would be willing to serve out the rest of that Senator’s term should they be elected in the Countback Election. They are given one week to respond at which point the following occurs.
  2. The ballot data from the election in which the vacating Senator was elected is accessed within three academic days of the end of the one week response period.
  3. The Countback Election begins by transferring all of the ballots used to elect Malik (513), all of the ballots used to elect Ruel (513), and all of the exhausted ballots from that election (484). The ballots that elected the non-vacating Senators are excluded from the Countback Election as those voters continue to have a serving representative. (Note: 513 was the threshold for the Fall 2004 election).
  4. The first round of the Countback Election shows all of the transferred votes from Maliks pile, Ruel’s pile, and the exhausted pile of ballots. Also notice that all elected and vacating candidates have been excluded from the Countback Election as they obviously cannot be elected again.
  5. The election then continues until one of the remaining candidates meets the threshold to be elected as a Replacement Senator. In this case, candidate Manteghi is the first to meet the threshold and is thus elected. The next round sees candidate Chin as the only remaining candidate and since two seats must be filled, she is elected by process of elimination. (If a candidate is elected in the Countback Election without receiving at least 50% of the threshold, they will not be elected and instead the President will have authority to choose an interim Senator).
  6. Assuming a Senator announces their resignation at a Senate meeting, the Countback Election would occur within two weeks and the winner would be announced thereafter. The winner would then be sworn in and assume office two Senate meetings from the time at which the vacancy occurred. (There would only be 2 Senate meetings with an empty seat; the meeting they resign and then the meeting during the one week response period).

Thoughts and Arguments on the Countback Amendment

PDF Version

This Amendment will take the power of replacing a vacant Senate seat away from the President and return it to the voters. It also eliminates any advertising period and speeds up the process of replacing a Senator so that a vacancy can occur at one Senate meeting and be filled the following week at the next Senate meeting. Instead of taking two weeks for the President to appoint someone and then additional time for the Senate to confirm them, this amendment will simply refer back to the election where the vacating Senator was elected and re-run the data, replacing the vacated seat with the next most preferred candidate by the voters.

In addition to returning power from the President to the voter, this amendment takes power away from the Senate and returns it to the voter. As it is now, the Senate must confirm the Presidential-appointed replacement, which is a small check on the President’s power; however by using the past election data to replace a vacancy, there is no need for the Senate to confirm someone that the voters have already approved. Also, if for any reason this candidate has lost the voters’ confidence since the election took place, the voters can call for a recall election and remove the replacement Senator from office. This would ultimately lead to another countback election to replace the replacement Senator; while this may seem to be a very obscure and hypothetical scenario, it is worth noting that there is still a check in place, it has just been transferred from the Senate (12 people) to the voters (over 20,000 people).

Lastly, while editing the current text to allow for a replacement Senator to serve out the full remaining term of the vacating Senator it prevents a problem that could easily occur under the old wording. As it is currently, the replacement Senator only serves until the next election. For instance, if a Senator was elected in Winter, vacated and a replacement was put into office prior to the Fall election, then during the Fall election that seat would be filled permanently according to the Constitution. However, this would mean one of two things. Either that 7 people would have to be elected in the Fall and one of these people would only be serving the rest of the term for the Senator that vacated. If this is the case, then there is nothing in the Constitution to specify which of these 7 candidates would be the one to only serve this partial term. Or it would mean that every Fall voters would elect 7 senators and every spring they would elect 5 senators. Either way, the current wording is either too ambiguous or contradictory with the rest of the Constitution. By changing it to simply allow the replacement Senator serve the rest of the vacating Senators term it prevents either of these problems from arising.