Countback is a way to use information from a previous Choice Voting election to replace a resigned/terminated candidate. Using the data from the previous election, the resigned/terminated candidate is 'eliminated' from the voting pool. Then the election is conducted with the ballots that caused the eliminated candidate to win (the ballots that gave the candidate the winning threshold) along with the ballots that did not elect a candidate. These are the ballots that have no representation. Whoever wins is given a seat on the ASUCD Senate. Because we use Choice Voting for our ASUCD Elections, the person wins is most likely to represent the voting population who voted for the resigning candidate

Before using Countback, when somebody resigned or otherwise terminated their ASUCD Senate position they would be replaced by an appointee chosen by the ASUCD President. In the period from the Winter of the 04' school year to the Winter of the 05' year there were (Ackerman, Barr, Ruel, Malik) 4 resignations. So this means Kalen Gallagher got to choose 4 voting, acting members of the ASUCD Senate. The current previous system, it was thought, gave the ASUCD President unprecedented authority.

The first (and currently only) ASUCD Countback Election to occur since its implementation in 2005 was conducted in Winter, 2011.

The city of Cambridge, MA uses the countback process to fill their choice voting vacancies.

To view the text of the ASUCD Constitutional Amendment authored by Jonathon Leathers check out the Countback Amendment page. This page has the current version of the Amendment as well as a simple explanation of how the Countback Election would work.

What if ASUCD had used Countback to fill...

Malik and Ruel's resignations?

The 1026 ballots that went to elect Malik and Ruel, together with the 485 exhausted ballots, would have elected replacements Parisa Manteghi and Christina Chin, both Student Focus candidates. Nafeh Malik and Sean Ruel were Student Focus Senators. Here is the countback tally:

Malik and Ruel countback tally (courtesy of DCR)

Barr's resignation?

Adam Barr, once a member of the L.E.A.D. slate, resigned from ASUCD Senate. His appointed replacement, Cari Ham, is a member of the Student Focus slate. If countback were being used Ham would have been the first to be eliminated (meaning students who had voted for Barr would rather have ANY OTHER candidate than Ham replace him) and Jenn de la Vega (who ran on L.E.A.D.) would have been offered the position.

Barr countback tally (courtesy of DCR)

Ackerman's resignation?

The 350 ballots that went to elect James Ackerman in Fall 2003, along with the 327 exhausted ballots, would have elected replacement Leticia Miller. Ackerman was a Student Focus senator, and Miller was a Student Focus candidate. Here is the tally, courtesy of DCR:

Ackerman countback tally

Here is the complete tally of the Fall 2004 Election Countback Results:

Thomas Lloyd

Replaced by: Homer DeAla

  • Final votes: 422.379853203
  • Threshold: 510
  • Percent threshold obtained: 82.8195790594

Keith Shively

Replaced by: Jonathon Leathers

  • Final votes: 441.274275309
  • Threshold: 510
  • Percent threshold obtained: 86.5243677076

Janine Fiel

Replaced by: Homer DeAla

  • Final votes: 510.0
  • Threshold: 510
  • Percent threshold obtained: 100.0

Nafeh Malik

Replaced by: Parisa Manteghi

  • Final votes: 444.637030916
  • Threshold: 510
  • Percent threshold obtained: 87.1837315522

Brianna Haag

Replaced by: Christina Chin

  • Final votes: 510.0
  • Threshold: 510
  • Percent threshold obtained: 100.0

Sean Ruel

Replaced by: Parisa Manteghi

  • Final votes: 423.711094717
  • Threshold: 510
  • Percent threshold obtained: 83.0806068072

Further detail

photo request: nicer graphics of this

This is a pretend countback where we assume 6 people ran for ASUCD Senate and we are counting back to elect a replacement for senator C. Here's our pile of ballots:

Senator A
Senator B
Senator C
Senator D
Senator E
Senator F
Senator G
Didn't elect candidate

Each pile is the collection of ballots that cause the winning candidates to get their threshold (and win!). We then consider only the pile for Senator C and the unrepresented ballots (that did not push anyone past a winning threshold). Then we run the election using those ballots, eliminating the resigning senator. This is a more representitive system because the people without representation are asked to elect the replacement for their candidate.

More information


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2005-01-28 01:11:54   I like this idea...someone really needs to spearhead this and get it introduced into senate —MattJojola

2005-01-28 01:24:37   I believe someone is already on it, but they cant introduce it until the end of the quarter —PaulAmnuaypayoat

2005-01-28 16:08:13   Jonathon Leathers has been working on it for a while. —RevChad

2005-01-28 16:10:26   haha. Davis Citizens for Representation has the same acronym as DCR —MattJojola

2005-01-29 00:30:28   Huge problem: Not everyone (or even every Jenn De La Vega) is eager to take on the role of senator months after an election has passed. And if people are given the offer to reject an appointment when they're counted-back, the system could just keep bubbling down the list until it got to some candidate that ran on a lark. Under the current system where people have to APPLY for a vacant senator position, you know that at the very least every candidate for the job is at least ready to take it on at the time. —TravisGrathwell

2005-01-29 03:47:57   Travis, I understand your concerns, but honestly, the current system of presidential appointments has to change because there is absolutley no garuntee that the Pres will choose an appropriate person to fill a vacancy. At least with countback, you take into account what the voters preferences were. —PaulAmnuaypayoat

2005-01-29 12:19:33   Travis, is this really a realistic worry? Don't you think most people given the opportunity would jump at the chance to be Senator? They did run after all — knowing it's a year-long commitment. There would have been 3 potential LEAD candidates in line to replace Adam in a countback. And many more legitimate candidates after that. —ChrisJerdonek

2005-01-30 19:48:36   I would have turned down the offer for a senate seat..I have other responsibilities now. You shouldn't eliminate the possibility of someone not wanting to be a senator after the election, months even! Where do you draw the line for "do not hire" candidates when you countback? —JenndelaVega—— 2005-01-30 22:34:58   It's okay for someone not wanting to be Senator later on. —ChrisJerdonek

2005-01-30 22:51:41   Say Jenn doesn't want to take a seat. First: run the simulation assuming Jenn will not accept the seat. Second: is there a limit on the number of candidates who reject the seat before the election data essentially becomes useless? Should we set one? —BrentLaabs

2005-01-31 00:06:49   Brent, no there shouldnt. Example: we have a race with 1 open seat and 10 candidates, with the first 9 candidates dropping out. We cannot penalize the 1 remaining candidate and make him compete with 9 other people, he should win. Same thing in countback, its the only fair way to do it as far as I know. —PaulAmnuaypayoat

2005-01-31 21:23:41   I'm going to add language to the Countback Amendment so that if the first 5 people chosen to be a Replacement Senator decide not to serve, then it reverts back to a Presidential appointment with confirmation from the Senate. I will work on getting my platform and this amendment on the Wikik ASAP. —JonathonLeathers

2005-01-31 23:30:34   i think thats a great idea, even though it would mean that i wouldnt be a senator now. if you need help getting this bill moving, come and talk to me and we can make this happen —AdamGerber

2005-02-02 15:35:58   Adam, I've discussed this with Senators and others but the basic consensus is that this will get vetoed under the current administration. So it will most likely be held off until after the Winter Elections. —JonathonLeathers

2005-02-08 01:25:59   !!!! WARNING !!!! Since multiple winner Single-Transferable-Voting (choice voting) is non-monotonic, I believe it's actually possible for removing losing candidates to change the winner of the election. In other words, recalculating who won in this way may result in one of the non-resigning senators losing his seat! I'm not certain of this, I'll have to study the math a bit, but I suggest you hold off on the amendment until a math person prooves this issue. —ScottRitchie

  • This is not true. Only ballots cast for the considered candidates, as well as the exhausted candidates, are considered. —PhilipNeustrom
    • Ahh, I see, it wasn't exactly clear until I clicked the link for Ackerman's resignation. By the way, are the two candidates that are eliminated in the first round removed because they are condorcet losers (rather than just the lowest vote getters)? —ScottRitchie
      • Scott, pairwise methods are not used in STV. It's always the last place candidate. —CHRIS
        • Then why does the system report that it has eliminated two candidates simultaneously, declaring them "mathematically impossible" rather than dropping them out one at a time because they're in last place like the rest of the eliminated candidates? —ScottRitchie
    • Note that it is still theoretically possible that the order of the resignations (IE: Nafeh before Sean or Sean before Nafeh rather than both simultaneously) will affect who replaces them (it's not guarenteed to be the same two people as if they had both resigned simultaneously like in the example). In this case whether Nafeh or Sean resigned first, or whether they both resigned simultaneously, would matter. It is still highly unlikely anyone will be able to exploit this, however. I might be wrong on this. —ScottRitchie
      • In the first countback you would use the set of exhausted ballots together with ballots cast to the resigning individual. If some of the exhausted ballots elected a candidate then they would have representation. Counting them again would lead to over-representation, so in the second countback you would exclude those ballots that already elected somebody. I guess in theory this means you could end up with two different candidates depending on the order of resignation, but it's also the case that each of the two would be representitive of the original voting preferences. —PhilipNeustrom

2005-02-08 12:16:38   Re: Aggie Editorial Opinion (I wrote this quickly, but I just wanted to get it out) They state that this is "not a failure of the system but a failure of the people in the system." What exactly is the Senate failing to do? The President has the power of appointment, so opposition to the President's appointments is be taken to mean opposition to the character of the individual — rather than opposition on the grounds that they obtained few votes. The countback system ensures that the individuals given the opportunity to represent the student body are those who actually represent it, rather "Kalen's close personal friends." Why would senators oppose the legitimate appointment of highly ASUCD-involved individuals? Their job is to assure that the candidate is qualified to take office, not whether they represent an accurate cross section of the students. The real issue at hand whether the power of appointment should fall in the President's hands or the people's. —PhilipNeustrom

2005-02-08 16:39:05   The Aggie editorial largely dodged the issue, but it did raise a point that's been raised before: if there are successive "declinings," where do you draw the line? This is the only valid criticism I see that's been raised, and I think it merits being addressed in the legislation in a thoughtful way. (The current text is at Countback Amendment. I encourage you to look there and help modify.) How many voters must a replacement candidate represent to be considered a valid replacement? The answer should be some fraction of the threshold for the countback elecction. The difficulty is that, in Choice Voting elections with many candidates, even in the original election, the last-elected candidates may not even reach the threshold. This is because of exhausted ballots. This is why voters should be encouraged to meaningfully rank more than a few candidates. For example, in the Ackerman/Ruel Countback, Christina Chin got 86% of the threshold, because there was more than a threshold's worth of exhausted ballots. And I think that's definitely enough. —ChrisJerdonek

2005-02-08 23:50:35   I just wrote a letter to the editor about the Aggie Editorial addressing the concerns they raised. I've also changed the Amendment slightly. Candidates elected in the Countback election have to now get 50% of the threshold in the Countback Election to be asked to serve. Once a candidate drops below that, the President can appoint someone. I highly doubt this will ever occur, but it is meant to address the concerns that we would keep going down the list of candidates until someone is chosen that doesn't have much support. And since this actually has to pass a vote of the Senate to get on the ballot and a vote of the students to be enacted, it's definitely worthwhile to address concerns people have. —JonathonLeathers