Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Message to Science Students

If you're a science student and you voted No on Sci5, you've made a huge mistake.

Hear me out for a second. This is completely irrelevant to any of the proposals that Sci5 put forward. I don't care why you voted no - in fact the merits of Sci5 are completely irrelevant to your error.

Bylaw 8200 of the Students' Union governs the process for levying a fee on students. Specifically, in order for a FAMF like Sci5 to be implemented, it needs to pass two criteria during voting:

  • A majority vote in a general election agrees with the fee, and
  • At least 15% of the faculty voted (section 18).
 Let's assume that the voter turnout for science this year is going to be similar to last year's total SU turnout (21.6%). This satisfies the second point listed above, and then as long as more than half (about 10.8% of science students) vote yes, the referendum passes.

However, if the students who were opposed to Sci5 just didn't vote in the first place, the referendum would have failed unless there was an overwhelming majority in favor. In fact, in a situation like this, voting the way you want could hurt your cause, which violates one of the most basic criteria of voting systems.

Normally this wouldn't be a terrifically large issue. For instance, last year's Science FAMF referendum got a turnout of 30.6% - at that point more than 15% of students could have voted yes, and every vote against would have been necessary to defeat it. It also wouldn't be much of an issue if you didn't know what the turnout of the election was going to be. The SU, though, regularly updates students on voter turnout, which is almost asking for the system to be gamed.

Basically, if I was an organizing an anti-Sci5 campaign, the best strategy to tell possible voters would be to not vote, and wait. Wait until the Science turnout hits over 15%. Maybe it won't, and you'll have won. If it ever does, then I'd get out as much of the vote as possible to try to tip the scales.

You'll note that I waited until after the Science vote hit 15%, just because I do actually abhor voting systems that allow rigging like this (not that I'd be particularly likely to influence anything, of course). I've proposed solutions to this back when I was a councillor, and I truly hope this gets fixed in the future.

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