Guest Post

Ranked Choice Voting: A Missed Opportunity in the New Shura Elections Law

This guest blog post is contributed by Faris Al-Said – Philosophy and Politics Graduate.

With the promulgation of the newly revised Majlis Al-Shura Elections Law, the country has taken steps forward towards a more robust framework for the elections of Majlis Al-Shura. The addition of detailed provisions for electronic voting will hopefully increase the accessibility of voting polls and puts it at the tip of our fingers, while the Electoral Grievance Committee will provide candidates as well as voters with a mechanism to voice grievances. This new law is a noteworthy legal development, but it still missed an opportunity to further improve voter representation through the introduction of ranked choice voting.

The new Shura Elections Law was promulgated in July 2023, and repeals the Shura Elections Law of 2013. The law does not make fundamental changes to the manner in which Shura elections are conducted, and instead makes a number of specific changes including new provisions to facilitate electronic voting as well as new provisions for the establishment of a new Electoral Grievance Committee to rule on complaints made against the preliminary lists of candidates and voters.

However, no change took place in regard to the mechanism for resolving a tie in elections, which I think is an issue that could have been reconsidered to further improve the election framework in Oman. Currently, as outlined in article 44 of the Shura Elections Law, when there is a tie between two candidates, both are put into a lottery to decide on who becomes the representative, and in wilayat that have two seats both are admitted into the majlis. However, while this clause does provide a solution to contested election results, it comes at the expense of greater representation. 

The missed opportunity can be showcased through an example, if candidates A, B, C, and D, are all running for a wilayat with a single seat and the first election results in candidate A receiving 30% of the votes, candidate B receiving 30%, candidate C receiving 10% and candidate D receiving the remaining 20%, even if the voters that voted for C and D could have preferred candidate A as a second choice, the clause would call for candidate A and B to be entered into a lottery in which one of them will be picked at random. This would mean that while 60% of the population would have preferred candidate A over candidate B, both A and B would have a 50% chance of winning the election in the event of a tie. (A lot of probability, I know.) 

This is an issue that election committees face all over the world and thanks to the commonality of the problem, Oman has many approaches to pick from. For instance, ranked choice voting calls for voters to not only choose a first choice but a second choice as well. Doing so means that if we take our previous example, as there was a tie between candidates A and B, the second choice of C and D voters are calculated to declare candidate A the winner with 60% of the votes. This mechanism would lead to a more representative election result while remaining inexpensive to implement, as the only change that would be made is the addition of an extra box in the ballot tickets. 

The new Shura Electoins Law has made voting more accessible with the introduction of electronic voting. It has also increased the rights of candidates to contest elections which are accused of irregularities through the formation of the Electoral Grievance Committee. Future reforms would benefit from considering whether the tie-breaker clause can be improved.

Faris Al-Said is a Philosophy and Politics Graduate from the University of Reading currently pursuing a career in International Relations.