Congratulations, AS President-Elect Ben Hassine   Leave a comment

“We didn’t know how we were doing, and everyone had different opinions about who was going to win. I didn’t expect it, and I had prepared myself not to win and made plans for next year if I didn’t.”
-Wafa Ben Hassine

But what the hell kind of quote is that? Kobe would never say something like that. You prepared yourself not to win? That sounds like you took steps to ensure that you lost…but won anyways. Do you mean you had prepared yourself in the case that you did not win? Well, that’s hardly any better in terms of a championship attitude. There’s a reason the elections had a 22.7% voter turnout rate, which is somehow down from last year in spite of this year’s tumultous events. Spring break really is a momentum killer of all things political at UCSD.

I did not vote, so I shall not complain, but 77.3% of UCSD students didn’t give enough of a darn to vote, calling into question what incentive could attract such a supermajority. Ask any of the political science professors I’ve had at this school and they’ll reply that it’s not so much the voters’ responsibility to vote as it is for the candidates to provide sufficient incentive to vote. When you’re within 3% of the results being invalidated for not reaching the 20% finalization threshold, does the constituency who never reaps any benefits from the elections in any case have reason to worry, or is it the legitimacy of an invisible and uncared for student government at greater risk?

One interesting twist I was not aware of was the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system in place for UCSD AS elections, which appears to be a direct response to low voter turnout. In a STV model, you rank candidates and if your first choice falls out of the running, your vote gets transferred to your second choice. Ben Hassine did not “win” the election as you might typically think of an electoral victory. Incumbent Gupta won the plurality, that is he received the most first place votes, but Ben Hassine won after all the automatic transfers of votes were accounted for. I will try to restate that a little clearer: the candidate who received the most first place votes lost. This isn’t the year 2000 and none of the six colleges is an acting Florida here, but what do you think of when you think of democracy?

I wouldn’t feel too hot if I received the most votes in an election and lost, but Gupta sounded like a good sport about it.

“A loss is a loss, and you have to learn to swallow them,” Gupta said. “Whether or not it reaffirms [my actions as president] or not, I don’t think it really speaks to those types of actions. It just speaks to who had the best ideas for next year and who can get the vote out, and I think the answer is obvious tonight. It’s Wafa.” -Utsav Gupta

That sounds like the statement of a guy who’s pretty humble and level headed, or else a carefully worded concession laced with criticism and resentment. The Koala’s gonna nail ya for that “swallow” quote, but you’re no longer going to be their whipping boy and I think we can all appreciate you not throwing a tantrum about the STV.

I mean, I’m still not over the STV, it’s just a strange institution to have to adjust your political strategy around, and won’t do you favors if you plan to move on to the big leagues of single non-transferable vote, plurality elections. Leaves us with a president who has prepared herself not to win and a defeated incumbent who gave a humble but somewhat odd concession quote. I’ll let you guess who the Guardian, from which these quotes have all been lifted, supported in the election.

Back to the oddity of the STV, which you won’t find in your congressional district and is generally reserved for parliamentary systems of government. I don’t really like it. If you want to have multiple rounds of elections, and knock a few candidates off between rounds, I’d be more comfortable with that, even if the results were the same. Something about your vote being transferred automatically, even with your consent, seems strange when it’s such a small community of voters. I mean, Ben Hassine had 1,991 votes with all the transfers and won by 278. There don’t seem to be logistic or infrastructural obstacles to having a runoff for such a small number of voters.

I would venture that the STV system has something to do with the low voter turnout rates. If it’s an agreeable solution to the stickier aspects of elections at UCSD, then that’s fine, but there is a problem. If the STV is instituted as a response to low voter turnout, it does so with the expectation that voter turnout will continue to be low. The institutional structure of the vote predicts, expects, and is tailored toward a little more than 1 in 5 students voting. So, 80% of UCSD students, the institutional structure of AS elections presupposes that you will not vote, and members will still have the gall to blame anything you don’t like on you for not voting. What would AS do if the proportion of voters to non-voters were reversed? I am not confident that they could even get away with a STV system in that case, but having the STV in the first place helps perpetuate that system and low voter turnout. There is no incentive for the mass student body to vote, and the STV does not fulfill its parliamentary purpose of making one’s vote really count. It’s rather a safety to ensure that the votes that are cast will count to reach a defendable quorum in a system that would be rejected if a majority of students voted.

It would be embarrassing for the AS president to have to say, “I got 1,153 votes out of a 20,000 student population and am the legitimate leader of the student body.” How can you, without any shame, present yourself to the student body as their president when less than 5.2% of them voted for you? Given, Ben Hassine ended up with just under 10% of the vote after the necessary votes were transferred to her, and that’s under the STV system, and that just doesn’t sound like good democracy to me. It’s certainly not majoritarian democracy, and lacks the scent of representative democracy.

If the STV system was not in place, and UCSD AS elections used a more conventional single non-transferrable plurality vote, the AS president would probably have between 3 and 7% of the popular vote of the student body. I don’t know whether that’s funny or sad. Students are generally very apathetic about this particular subject, and given the numbers being run here, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing for AS. A 20% turnout quorum is difficult enough to justify, but guaranteeing that your president doesn’t even receive the vote of 1 in 10 students is really farcical. It sounds like a joke, but that’s UCSD. Nonetheless, congratulations to Ben Hassine.


Posted April 13, 2010 by Wada in UCSD

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