Vote-Counting at Dartmouth
In a letter June 23, Dartmouth's former vice president of alumni
relations Stan Colla described how Stephen Smith, Class of 1988, won the
college's recent trustee election with 9,984 votes out of an overall total
of 32,941 votes cast, and then he opined that Smith's victory "might not
truly reflect the will" of the alumni. He tartly suggested "you can do the
Well, let's take Colla up on his modest proposal. But before we do
so, we need to note a fact that Colla curiously omits from his letter:
18,186 individual alumni voted in the election, and many of them voted for
more than one candidate. Under the approval method, alumni could vote for
each and every candidate that they thought qualified to be a good trustee;
each alumnus could cast up to four individual ballots. In this way, the
18,186 voters cast 32,941 votes.
Of the 18,186 voting alumni, the 9,984 who voted for Smith
comprised 54.9 percent of all voters. A convincing majority by any
calculation, no? Mr. Colla asserts that the three candidates nominated by
the college's Alumni Council split their support between them. Possibly
true, but irrelevant in this election: even if all of the voters who did
not vote for Smith concentrated their votes on a single candidate, that
candidate would have received the approval of only 45.1% of all voters.
Smith's victory was unmistakable.
Colla is confused - or he seeks to confuse us - about the
distinction between votes and voters. As an illustration, how would Colla
describe the results in the following hypothetical situation: Imagine that
all of the 18,186 voters in the recent election had voted for Smith, and
that many had voted for other candidates, too. Would Colla then say that
only a little more than half the "votes" (18,186 out of 32,941) had been
cast for Dartmouth's first African-American alumni trustee? Or would he
give Smith credit for a 100 percent victory?
As a graduate of Dartmouth's Amos Tuck School of Business, Colla
owes us a better effort in analyzing the statistics from the recent
election, especially given that I corrected him for the same obvious error
in an op-ed in The Dartmouth on September 29, 2005.
And, returning to the larger picture, the members of Dartmouth's
Board of Trustees owe it to alumni to respect the College's 116-year-old
system of governance, even though the choice of Stephen Smith by a decisive
majority of alumni voters is not the one that they favor.
Dartmouth Class of 1979