CUSA explores ranked voting systems ahead of 2018 election

Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) executives and council members examined different methods of online ranked voting in preparation for the 2018 CUSA election at a council meeting on July 19.

Tyler Hall, the programmer in charge of CUSA’s online ballot system, said he generated two different types of online ranked ballot for testing—what he called the matrix and manual entry systems.

The matrix lays candidates out in a table with the potential rankings on the opposite axis for voters to select. The manual entry system lists candidates’ names with a space to enter a number ranking next to each name.

CUSA council had previously passed a motion to implement a ranked voting system following a council meeting in 2016. But, prior to last year’s CUSA elections, councillors voted to not implement ranked voting after all, since the system had not been tested sufficiently.

CUSA president Zameer Masjedee tested a matrix ballot at the meeting, showing councillors how the ballot adjusts after each candidate selection to prevent voting for the same candidate twice or ranking two candidates the same.

“Using this restrictive system, we will guarantee that there are no spoiled ballots, and I think that was sort of one of the main goals of implementing a ranked ballot system,” Masjedee said.

But in an email to Masjedee that was shared with CUSA council, Hall called the matrix an “all-round frustrating experience.”

“Because of the need to have the option to rank all but one candidate, you end up with an absolutely massive ranking matrix … This makes it nearly impossible to vote on a phone with any accuracy due to the amount of scrolling required and the ease of making a mistake and ranking candidates incorrectly,” Hall said.

Both Hall and Masjedee acknowledged drawbacks to the manual entry system, which resembles how ranked ballot voting is done on paper, and could allow people to enter the same number for multiple candidates.

Hall said the manual entry system would result in spoiled ballots and make it difficult to determine how to handle ballots that are incorrectly filled.

As a result, Hall recommended ranked ballot voting not be implemented in situations where multiple candidates are elected, such as with CUSA councillors.

Masjedee said it would be beneficial to create a committee made up of councillors and students-at-large to plan how to educate students on ranked voting before choosing a system to use in the 2018 CUSA election.

“Our part of it now is to be able to come up with some sort of informational plan—marketing plan—on how to tell students about what the ballot’s going to look like, how ranked voting works, what you can and can’t do, what would spoil a ballot, for example,” he said.

According to Masjedee, a lack of information about ranked voting was a major reason ranked ballots were not implemented for the 2017 CUSA election. He added that CUSA fully intends to have ranked voting in place for the upcoming election.

“However, at the same time, if it ends up being extremely problematic particularly for our councillor positions because of the nature of having up to six or seven positions and that being an issue for students, we want to make sure that we’re able to work around that,” Masjedee said.