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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Handling of Yell Leader elections raises the question: Why ‘gig the vote’ at all?

The controversy is in the numbers, but the trend is clear — after four years of inconsistency, yet another ambiguous Yell Leader election result highlights the shortcomings of the election commission’s instant runoff system.
The vote-counting method for Texas A&M’s most visible representatives has again flip-flopped. It begs the question, Why should students “gig the vote” if the voting system is ambiguous and inconsistently applied?
Students expect the ability to vote for three Senior Yell Leader candidates — one ballot, three equally weighted votes. This year and in 2013, each ballot was only counted once. After a messy 2012 election season, the election commission eliminated the need for runoffs by implementing its current system. In its third iteration, that system continues to fail students voting for Senior Yell Leader.
It didn’t matter in 2013, when no candidate posed a significant threat to the Corps of Cadets block, 5 For Yell. This year, though, the race featured four strong contenders — one had to be pushed out.
Incumbent Ben Ritchie fell short in the announced results Friday, while Steven Lanz and cadets Kyle Cook and Zach Lawrence won. But the votes were improperly tallied, and the trio that was announced Friday might not be the same that trots onto Kyle Field in Yell Leader whites after the SGA Judicial Court rules on a filed appeal Wednesday.
For that, the election commission and its system — begun in 2013 by then-election commissioner Allison Krenzien and continued today by Emma Douglas — deserve the blame.
The problem is not a new one. In 2013, an appeal filed by a Yell Leader sought an injunction against the election results announcement and a revamped tabulation process. None of it mattered that year — 5 For Yell’s candidates won by a wide margin.
A 2013 editorial in The Battalion, titled “Instant runoff system could distort yell results,” pointed to the clear weakness in the system. That the commission failed to correct the flaw is an embarrassment and a deterrent to future voter turnout.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the instant runoff system if it is implemented consistently and students understand it. Still, a simple look at the voting numbers of the last four years reveal the way it has been misapplied.
In 2012, the last year before instant runoff, about 36,000 votes were cast across 14,600 ballots, or about 2.5 votes per ballot. That’s to be expected, as some students can choose not to vote for three candidates.
In 2013 — the first year of instant runoff — 11,800 ballots registered 11,700 votes, or about one per ballot.
In 2014, under the same instant runoff system, 2.3 votes were counted per ballot, indicating the system can work under the right calculation model.
Then came 2015, when the votes per ballot dipped near one. Once again, the system only tabulated first-place votes. The error could be a simple IT matter outside the commission’s immediate control. But the stark contrast in votes per ballot should have alerted the commission to the problem before it gathered the student body around Sully and announced inaccurate results.
Historically, incumbent cadets like Ritchie and Lawrence rarely lose, and non-regs like Lanz rarely win. The rare combination of circumstances should have prompted a second look.
5 For Yell campaigns as a block, so many ballots that named one cadet — Cook, Lawrence and Ritchie — likely named all three. Many Lanz supporters, in contrast, likely voted only for Lanz.
A recount will change the entire landscape drastically. It’s impossible to predict where things will land. To some degree, it stands to reason that in counting only first-place ballots the results inflate Lanz’s tally and suppress the cadets’.
The final order might remain the same, but the announced results were inaccurate, just as many — The Battalion included — predicted two years ago.
The election commission failed to recognize its system’s weaknesses. Now, the candidates and their student supporters have to deal with the consequences.

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