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Associated Students, UCSB switched to a Single Transferable Voting (STV) system for the Spring 2016 student elections. New software was developed to do the complex calculations inherit to ranked voting. Today AS UCSB makes this software available for download as an open source project. With this software, universities and organizations can conduct rankings-based online elections without worrying about the complicated tabulation process.

What is Single Transferable Voting?

Minnesota Public Radio has a quick video explanation of exactly what this method of voting is (they call it “Instant Runoff Voting” while others call it “Ranked Candidate Voting”).

If you’re still curious, the fine folks at Fairvote have more on the subject.

Don’t have time for the video? Here’s the breakdown:

  • Traditional voting is “first past the post”. Everyone votes for one candidate and whoever gets a majority (50%+1) wins.
  • STV (and all its iterations) involves ranking candidates. You have a first choice, second choice, third choice, etc.
  • If no one candidate (assuming there is only one open position) get a majority, it goes to the next round (or a runoff, as some call it).
  • The lowest vote getter is eliminated and their next available choices are added to the remaining candidates. This continues until someone passes the majority threshold.
  • Why is this more democratic? Do you like animals? Here’s a great explanation of why STV can result in a more proportional representative result.

Brief History

Associated Students has used the instant run-off model for our executive officers for several decades. For our many senators, however, we continued to use the traditional “first past the post” model.
Due to student legislation in late 2015, Associated Students switched to the STV model for the Spring 2016 election. All candidates would now be ranked in order of preference.

We consulted UC Berkeley, as they have been using STV for a number of years (enough that they don’t recall how they accomplished the transition from “first past the post” voting). This got the ball rolling toward our own solution.

Qualtrics

Software for tabulating election results is great. After all, calculating all of that by hand would take days or weeks. But you still need software for the students to vote online. Thankfully, many universities already have access to the professional survey software Qualtrics.

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With Qualtrics and our tabulator software, you will have a complete solution for instituting STV at your university.
To jump directly to our Qualtrics tutorial, go here.

The Software

The software package includes our python-based tabulator and a tutorial on how to create a Qualtrics ballot for your university/organization.

In addition to tabulating your results, the software can also generate results for testing purposes. This is great for running through an entire election process and seeing how the software works.

While installing the software does require some technical knowledge, operating it is relatively straightforward. 

If you have any questions, feel free to Contact Us.

The Future

We had concerns that switching to STV would confuse users or affect our voter turnout. Thus far, those worries have not come to fruition.

 

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2016 Undergrad Voter Turnout

Turnout was actually up over our Spring 2015 election. We received zero complaints/questions regarding the ranking of candidates (as a concept or in practice with the Qualtrics software). People just got it.

We are working on version 2.0 for this coming spring. Features may include:

  • Color coding for parties
  • More visually pleasing 
  • Tidier codebase
  • Clearer announcements for candidate elimination/election

Let us know if you have any suggestions of your own.