If Jim Harbaugh’s 2016 Central Student Government presidential campaign really is conducted with enthusiasm unknown to mankind, voters may be in for a surprise on election day.
Last year, the Michigan football coach made waves when he placed fourth in the CSG presidential election as a write-in candidate with 115 votes.
At the time, Harbaugh tweeted jokingly: “Disappointed w/4th place finish 4 @umich student body Pres. Competitive juices flowing! Hat in the ring for 2016 & will campaign w/ #EUTM”
Harbaugh’s 2015 votes ultimately didn’t amount to anything, but only because he was not enrolled as a student. This year could yield different results, though. While Jim Harbaugh the football coach is still not enrolled as a student, his son, James Harbaugh, is a freshman in LSA. Though James Harbaugh is not officially running for a CSG position, as a student he is eligible to be elected president, vice president or LSA representative as a write-in.
In other words, if students write in “Jim Harbaugh” on their ballots, Harbaugh’s son of the same name could be elected.
According to the election results available on the CSG website, 45 votes for Jim Harbaugh were officially counted in the LSA representative race in Fall 2015, the younger Harbaugh’s first semester at Michigan. The lowest winning vote total for an LSA representative in the Fall 2015 election was 535 votes.
These figures are from a “weighted” system, which awards a certain number of votes to candidates based on how high they are on the voter’s list of preferred candidates. In Fall 2015, Harbaugh appeared on 24 ballots — 21 as a first choice and three as a second choice for a final tally of 45 votes.
There was also a single ballot cast for “Jimmy Harbaugh,” as well as another stray “Jim Harbaugh” ballot, but those votes were not counted. CSG Elections Director Ben Reese told The Michigan Daily this week that those votes could, and perhaps should, have been consolidated with the other 45, but since there were two clear winners, it would not have made a difference to the election results.
“People write in Jim Harbaugh in every election,” Reese said. “The write-in is going to be a write-in. There’s no way I can control what people write in there. If it’s clear they’re voting the coach, like if people write, ‘Coach Harbaugh,’ those aren’t going to be counted toward (James).
“But if everybody is voting for James or Jimmy, I don’t know if I’ll combine ‘James’ and ‘Jimmy.’ It just depends what the write-in ballots look like.”
Of course, Harbaugh’s son is not required to accept the position, even if he is elected. In the case he were elected as an LSA representative, and he declined, the LSA Student Government would simply appoint an interim representative to fill his vacancy until the next election.
Reese told the Daily last week that the student Harbaugh would be eligible for election to any position in the LSA Student Government, as well as for president or vice president of the CSG Executive Committee. He would not, however, be eligible as a write-in candidate for any position in schools he is not enrolled in, such as the College of Engineering or Law School.
The CSG Election Code calls for the dismissal of ballots that are inappropriate. But the precedent set in Fall 2015, in which ballots with Harbaugh were counted, suggests votes for “Jim Harbaugh” could be counted as legitimate votes for Harbaugh the undergraduate.
“Given the choice between invalidating the ballot or counting the ballot toward someone who can actually be elected, I would be inclined to count it as a vote for someone who can actually be elected,” Reese said. “I would prefer to count more ballots as valid ballots than to assume that every vote for Jim is a vote for the coach.But they’re welcome to challenge that in (Central Student Judiciary) if they disagree with me.”
CSJ hears any cases on eligibility, election infractions or other contested issues surrounding the election.
This year’s CSG elections are slated to take place March 23 and 24. Given past results, it does not seem likely that Harbaugh would accumulate enough write-in votes to make a serious threat at winning a representative seat, let alone the presidency. But given the coach’s popularity, it’s not impossible that, come March 25, there could be a Harbaugh ready to take office.