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Nap Time!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Paper beats Recall

I've mentioned how I feel that the at-large recall process perverts the proportional representation process, so what are some alternatives?

Unfortunately, folks are going to conflate discussion of the recall process with the current recall election. Those who want a different process will probably line up pretty closely with those who disapprove of this recall, and the opposite will be true of those who think the current process is great.

But now that we have folks' attention, let's pretend like they care about process. There's really no way, through the recall election process, of ensuring that a successful recall represents a change in the views of voters. Taking that as a requirement, what can be done?

One approach is to simply make it impossible for voters to remove a Senator. Since terms are only one year long, requiring voters to deal with a Senator they don't want as one voice in twenty isn't a huge cost.

Another is to hold a whole new election for the Senate. If X voters sign a petition saying they disapprove of the current Senate makeup, a new election could be called for (along the lines of a vote of no confidence in many parliamentary bodies). This isn't an exact parallel, as a such a vote would typically be used to oust a suddenly unpopular party, but it could also perform the recall function. It would be a broader tool, but would also preserve proportional representation in a way that recalls do not. If a senator's supporters no longer support him, they can throw their weight behind someone else rather than simply losing their vote.

An immediately apparent drawback would seem to be cost, but it's not clear that such an election would actually cost any more than a recall election. With computerized voting, the cost of an election is pretty much independent of the size of the ballot. There would probably only be slightly increased advertising costs.

The other effect would be another campaign season, though probably a more muted one, due to the limited time scale and lack of executive races. While this would make things suck for the heavy campaign machines, most of campus would see that as a feature, not a bug.

While we're on the topic of replacing Senators, the current process of passing the Senate seat to whoever is next in line (whatever rule is used) also subverts the proportional representation process, as the votes for the resigning senator are lost, and not transferred. With computerized counting, it's not difficult to simply rerun the election with resigned senators removed to preserve the votes of their supporters. One consequence of this would be that a resigning senator can potentially remove other senators from the Senate, depending on how those votes transfer.

Neither of these change would ever actually happen, of course. The senators themselves suffer drawbacks for both of them, so the major parties would never approve them, regardless of what it means for student representation.

posted by Beetle Aurora Drake 12/16/2008 08:09:00 AM #
Comments (4)
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I don't know if either of these is better than the current system.

1) Eliminating the recall removes the only check students have of removing officials guilty of gross misconduct, whatever that misconduct may be. In a representative democracy, there has to be some sort of leverage that voters can use beyond the initial vote - an election can't be a blank check.

2) Recalling all senators doesn't make a whole lot of sense either. Why punish 19 innocent senators for the wrongdoing of one? Plus, this hurts smaller parties and independents because it requires them to raise funds to run for re-election once a year.

3) With the current recall system, I disagree that using the current tabulation completely subverts the proportional representation process. Partially subverts, yes, but it gives us the most complete indication of student opinion - more so than using first-place votes only because you still have some run-off votes. Additionally, a re-tabulation might favor large parties, lowering the stakes for a recall and making the tool less effective.
1) The U.S. government doesn't provide its voters a check on officials guilty of gross misconduct (oddly enough, the check comes from representatives of other districts). I disagree that such a power is absolutely necessary for a representative democracy. In any case, normal recalls typically involve winner-take-all districts, which dramatically changes the nature of the "check." An at-large recall in a proportional representation system practically begs for use as a political weapon. If we're going to allow that, why bother with the election? Why not save money and leave it to the other elected representatives?

2) You don't recall all senators, you hold another election. If the senators still have the support, they'll get re-elected. Again, opposition governments in parliamentary systems can often provoke new elections, confident that they'll gain more seats. It's not a "punishment" to have to reaffirm their support among the students. It seems appropriate that if folks want to challenge the support of the student body behind a certain senator, all senators should have to show that support.

3) My point is that there is an alternative method, retabulation, which preserves the proportional representation process. What makes the last-eliminated more of an indication of student opinion than most first place votes? Even if it favors large parties (and I'm not sure why you think it would), if the goal is removing a Senator for wrongdoing, why would this be a problem?

If the idea is punishing wrongdoing, this can be done through a hearing among representatives, as is done in Congress. To call for a recall is a very different thing, as it demands that voters show their support for a senator, wrongdoing or no.
1) Not the US government, no, but most state and local governments do - on that level, it's the norm.

The power isn't necessary, no, but it does provide a certain element of review that can have value but also has the potential for abuse - much like any mechanism in any government.

If recall in a proportional representation system begs for use as a political weapon, why is it so rarely used in the ASUC or any other state government?

2) Parlimentary systems also (generally) vote by party, not by individual, saving on campaign costs. Unless we switched to this format for all ASUC elections, I don't see how new elections every time one recall was needed are necessary.

3) Neither system is perfect... I'd argue that the taking the #21 senator reflects the best will of students according to the proproportional system for the same reason that, when you have the bronze medalist in the Olympics punished for doping, you don't re-run the race, even if there would have been a different race dynamic without that person in the event - you give the bronze to the 4th place finisher according to the system you have in place.
Recalls are useful as political weapons because of the proportional representation system, not because they're recalls. Most recall systems involve recalls of single office holders (e.g. governors, district representatives). It's an entirely different situation, where an actual shift of opinion is necessary.

Recalls aren't used in the ASUC because they're only effective against third parties, and most third party folks aren't hated as much.

2) The ASUC frequently votes by party. The "recall" process would instead be a process by which students decide they want to hold a new election because the current Senate is ineffective. The presence of a single senator who people dislike would probably not provoke such an effort, but that's a feature, not a bug. It saves us the time and money of new elections unless the Senate itself is broken, not just because there's a senator we don't like.

3) Your example is nonsense. Rerunning the race would be costly and difficult. Rerunning the election results with a disqualified candidate removed is trivially easy. How you feel that having voters who voted for a candidate who can't serve lose their votes better reflects the will of the students is beyond me.
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