How we elected a new chair for the Biology Department

22 Jun

pennie-chairA few months ago, our department needed to elect a new chair. I was part of the election committee and I couldn’t find much useful information online on how to elect a chair. Now that we have done it, I thought I share how we did it!

Finding candidates to run for chair and volunteers for the election committee

The associate chair for HRTP send out an email to ask who would like to run for chair and to ask who would like to sit on the election committee.

Fairly quickly, four people said they wanted to run for chair, but only few people wanted to be on the election committee. The associate chair for HRTP then sent out a second email to ask for volunteers, letting everyone know that there were not yet enough volunteers. Quickly, people volunteered and we had a committee of 5 (4 women, 1 man, 3 full, 1 associate and 1 assistant prof, one URM).

Setting deadlines

The election committee met a few times. We agreed that we wanted to try to  to make the election as much as possible about the future of the department and not a popularity contest. We also needed to do things quickly because of university deadlines.

The committee quickly decided on some deadlines:

  1. a deadline for people to let us know that they were running for chair
  2. a deadline for the candidates to send us two pages with their vision / plan for the department (to be shared with people in the department)
  3. a deadline for everyone else in the department to send in questions for the candidates (to be asked at the town hall department meeting).
  4. a day for a department meeting devoted to getting to know the plans of the candidates (town hall)
  5. a day for the ballots to be due

Someone from the election committee also talked to the dean of the college about how we could support our new chair. The dean agreed that the department could spend money on hiring a part-time lab tech for the new chair. I think it was useful that this conversation happened before the election, and also that the candidates themselves didn’t have to do this.

Instant-runoff voting

The election committee decided to use the method of instant-runoff voting for the election.

Instant-runoff voting allows everyone to vote for their favorite candidate. Everybody also indicates a second, third etc choice. Initially, only first choices are counted. If one candidate has more than 50% of the first choice votes, then this candidate wins. If no one has more than 50% of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. For all ballots that had this candidate as their first choice, the second choice now counts. Votes are counted again and if someone has more than 50% of the votes, than that person wins. If not, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated again. The process continues until there is a winner.

Here’s an example of how this could work. Imagine, Hillary, Bernie and Trump all ran against each other. Bernie gets 10%, Hillary 44% and Trump also 46% of the votes in the first round. In the “normal” system, Trump would win and the Hillary voters would blame the Bernie voters for letting a Republican win the election. In the instant-runoff system, however, we would notice that no one has more than 50%, so we go to the second round. Bernie is eliminated because he has the fewest votes, and since most Bernie voters likely ranked Hillary second and Trump third, these votes are transferred to Hillary, allowing her to win in the second round with 54% of the votes.

A town hall meeting with all candidates

Questions from the department were compiled and forwarded anonymously to the candidates to help them prepare for the discussion at the faculty meeting. Specifically, lecturers and faculty were asked to create questions that could be answered by all of the candidates, rather than individual questions for just one candidate.

At the department meeting devoted to the election, our four candidates gave a short presentation (5 minutes each) on how they would run the department and what their plans were for the department. After these presentations, someone from the election committee asked the candidates a selection of the questions that had been sent in by our colleagues (around 45 minutes). Finally, there was time for a spontaneous Q&A session (around 10 minutes). Many colleagues let us know that they found this meeting extremely useful and interesting.

Counting the ballots!

A week after the town hall meeting, the ballots were due. Late that afternoon, three of us spent a few hours counting. Our task was somewhat complicated because of the instant-runoff system and also because many people in our department teach part-time and their votes are weighted by how much they teach.

All tenured and tenure-track faculty will have one vote; .

All four candidates had strong support in the department and we needed all rounds of the instant run-off to determine who had won.

My personal conclusion

I think the election went well. The atmosphere was collegial and I think that the process worked well.

Being on this election committee was a really fun experience!

The others on the committee were Jennifer Breckler, Carmen Domingo, Gretchen LeBuhn and Vance Vredenburg.

Supplementary material: Instant runoff explanation on the ballot

We are electing a new chair for the biology department. The 2017 chair election committee decided to conduct an election using a method called “instant runoff” or “ranked choice voting.” In case you are not familiar with this concept, we include here a short description. This reference is also helpful.  

Each voter will receive only one ballot. The ballot will ask the voter to rank the 4 candidates. (i.e. first choice, second, third, fourth). Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish. Candidates can not share rankings (i.e. you should rank only one person as first choice candidate, one second choice candidate, etc.). First choices are then tabulated. If one candidate obtains the MAJORITY of first-place votes (i.e. greater than 50%) then he/she wins the election. If no one receives a majority, then a “runoff” is necessary. The candidate who received the fewest first choice rankings is eliminated from the ballot. All ballots are then re-tabulated using each voter’s highest ranked candidate who is still in the race. Specifically, voters who had chosen the now-eliminated candidate will now have their ballots added to the totals of their second choice candidate — just as if they were voting in a second election — but all other voters get to continue supporting their first-choice candidate who remains in the race. The person with the majority vote wins. If another runoff is needed, the weakest candidates are successively eliminated and their voters’ ballots are added to the totals of their next choice candidate. Once the field is reduced to ONLY two candidates, the candidate with the majority of votes wins. 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: