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Write-ins, Rules Cause UA Elections Dispute

By Kathy Lin and Marissa Vogt


Elections for Undergraduate Association Senators and Class of 2008 Class Council will wrap up today in Lobby 10 amidst controversy surrounding the number of blanks on the ballots for write-in candidates.

A recent interpretation of the Election Code, Article III, Section 1, by the UA Election Commission means that residents of dormitories with no official candidates for UA Senator were not able to vote for more than one write-in candidate. This applies to Bexley Hall, East Campus, and Senior House, all of which have no official candidates for the election.

Furthermore, the interpretation means that none of the residents of undergraduate dormitories can rank all write-in candidates, though official candidates are elected according to preferential balloting.

Article III, Section 1 of the Election Code states that “A blank shall be supplied on all ballots for write-in candidates.”

Commission denies request

The interpretation of the code came in response to an e-mail sent to the Election Commission on Monday, the first day of the election, by EC resident Kevin W. Chen ’06.

Chen’s e-mail to the Election Commission requested that “the number of write-in options on the online form be expanded” to allow him to preferentially rank the seven write-in candidates for EC Senator.

Election Commission Chair Tiffany L. Seto ’06 replied in an e-mail sent to Chen yesterday that Article III, Section 1 of the Election Code “clearly” states “we can not have more than one line for write-ins.”

Chen disagreed, saying that the “intent isn’t actually to allow for only one write-in candidate, but rather that write-in candidates should be allowed” in general.

He also wrote in an e-mail to the UA Election Commission that “from a grammatical point of view, it seems to suggest that a single blank can be used for multiple write-in candidates.”

Seto later responded by e-mail that the Election Commission had “chosen to interpret it to mean that there can only be one write-in,” and that if anyone were to “write multiple write-ins and rank them, we will only count the person you ranked first.”

“The fact that you can not vote for two candidates is not the fault of the Election Code or Commission, but rather the consequence of there having been no official candidates for the position of EC Senator,” Seto wrote.

Seto’s response incited a slew of flame wars on the ec-discuss mailing list.

Solution infeasible at this point

“I’m disappointed that the UA election committee has decided this way,” Chen said, because it “doesn’t allow EC residents to fully exercise their right to vote.”

“If this had been taken care of earlier in the week,” the Election Commission could have “allowed everyone to re-vote,” said Chen.

Seto said that on Monday she was too busy taking care of other e-mails regarding last-minute candidates for the election to reply to Chen.

“I didn't respond to him until yesterday,” Seto said on Thursday. “I get like a billion e-mails a day.”

UA President Harel M. Williams ’05 said that though he believes there is “a legitimate concern” with the write-ins, “people have to understand, it’s difficult to switch in the middle of the election.”

Williams said that the interpretation of the election code is at the discretion of Seto, though “there’s definitely room for improvement in the election code in general” and that the Election Commission will address the issue after the election is done.

Seto said that she understands “how people could feel that [the election code] is ambiguous” and that they will “obviously discuss it and look into changing it.”

“We’ve never actually come across this situation before,” Seto said. “I'm really glad that this situation was brought to our attention.”

Preferential voting benefits lost

In UA elections, students vote by ranking the candidates by preference. The votes are initially given to each voter’s first choice. At each stage in the vote tallying process, the senate candidate with the fewest votes is removed from the running, and her votes are redistributed to her voters’ next highest choices.

However, there is only one write-in slot on the ballot, so that the residents at those dormitories cannot indicate their preferences amongst the write-in candidates, resulting in a more standard voting system without the flexibility of the preferential method.