Blue Candidate
Red Candidate
Yellow Candidate
Prior Election Czars' decision to count votes according to their own method, rather than using the Single Transferable Voting method recommended by the Senate Elections Handbook, disenfranchised many student voters, an investigation by The Inquirer found.
The Student Body Elections Handbook recommends that all elections at Reed be counted by the Single Transferable Voting (STV) method, but gives Election Czars the power to change the counting method.
When asked if they used the Single transferable Voting method, former Election Czar Ares Carnathan, who oversaw the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 student body elections, said, "I have no motivation nor inclination to find the answers to the questions you ask. Please do not contact me again." Former Election Czar Aidan Mokalla, who oversaw the Fall 2023 election, did not respond to a request for comment.
However, the data suggests that neither Election Czar used STV. The official results for all three elections show the total number of votes increasing after each round of counting, ultimately exceeding Reed's student body size. This is impossible under STV. To understand why, let's consider a simplified example.
To get started, cast your vote by ranking the blue, red, and yellow candidates.
Your vote is awarded to your first choice, the candidate.
But this election won't be very interesting with only one voter. Let's add some more.
For the sake of simplicity, there will be only 21 voters in this model election, including you. The three candidates are running for two open seats.
Counting Round: 1
Each voter's ballot is awarded to their first choice candidate.
The minimum number of votes that a candidate needs to win is set based on the total number of votes and the number of seats up for grabs, using the Droop Formula. In this case, 21 votes have been cast to fill 2 open seats, so candidates will need at least 8 votes to win.
The candidate has already met the quota, and is elected to the first open seat. With 10 votes, the candidate has two extra votes that they do not need to win. These 'surplus votes' are now transferred to their supporters' second choices.
Counting Round: 2
The candidate's surplus votes are transferred to their supporters' second choices. Some versions of STV transfer surplus votes at a fraction of their original value to add weight to voters' rankings. Others transfer whole votes unchanged. For simplicity, we will transfer whole votes.
Unfortunately, even after receiving surplus votes, neither the candidate nor the candidate has enough votes to win. Elimination begins.
Counting Round: 3
The candidate, your first choice, has the fewest votes, and is eliminated. Your vote is transferred to your second choice, the candidate. Other voters who picked as their first choice also have their votes transferred to their second choice.
Now that the candidate's votes have been transferred, both the and candidates have enough votes to win, and are elected.
Through this process of transfer and elmination, STV promises to discourage extreme positions, and reward middle-of-the-road candidates who can win support from across the political spectrum.
Yet since votes are only transferred, never added, it is impossible for this counting method to have produced the results of recent Reed elections. Let's take a look at the method that the data suggests was actually used, starting from the same ballots as in the first example.
Counting Round: 1
One whole vote is awarded to your first choice, the candidate.
Counting Round: 1
Likewise, one vote is awarded to each voter's first choice.
Counting Round: 2
One additional vote is awarded to each voter's second choice.
Counting Round: 3
And then to each voter's third choice.
The and candidates have the most votes, and are elected.
Despite starting from the same ballots, we have reached a different result by using this counting method. How is this possible?
The method used at Reed in recent elections — one similar to Bucklin Voting, according to the fall results — seems to save time on election night by simply taking the sum of each candidate's first, second, and third choice votes.
This means that any candidate you rank, regardless of order, receives one vote.
For example, consider where your votes for the , , and candidates ended up.
Because you ranked all three candidates, your ballot was counted as one equal vote for each of them. Essentially, your ballot canceled itself out, and had no impact on the outcome of the election. We can safely eliminate it without changing the results.
Likewise, we can safely eliminate the votes of all other voters who ranked each of the candidates, regardless of the ordering of their preferences. In both our simplified election and, the data suggests, the last three Reed elections, this means eliminating a majority of the electorate.
The result remains unchanged, and we're left only with voters who ranked some, but not all, of the possible candidates.
Remember them? In the previous example, their ballots looked like this.
In the Fall 2022, Spring 2023, and Fall 2023 Reed elections, these voters, and these voters alone, likely controlled the outcome.
If you ranked all of the possible candidates in any of those election cycles, your vote was likely not counted in any meaningful way.
The opposite of STV, this counting method encourages extreme candidates whose supporters vote only for them, and withhold their lower ranking votes from all other possible candidates. Under this system, encouraging such voting strategies is the only way to win an election.
Another side effect of this counting method? The additional votes we originally observed in Reed's election results.
Note that in our model, the total number of votes cast increased after each round of counting, ultimately exceeding the number of voters, exactly as it did in the official results for the last three semesters.
Spring 2024 Election Czars Eleanor Davis-Diver and Maya Hanser-Young have promised to use STV counting in the current election.
This is a developing story. The Inquirer will report election results as they are released.