SGA Online Voting Referendum met with support
One year after a proposed referendum to move Student Government Association (SGA) voting online was opposed by the administration in power at the time, the tide seems to have turned on the online issue.
The issue, which dates back to last spring, originally stems from a petition filed by Mike Feder, Derek Khanna, Sean McNair, Erica Nyer and Dave Robertson, to hold elections both in dining commons and over the University’s Online Web-based Learning (OWL) system.
Last year’s SGA held that the OWL system was vulnerable to hacking attacks, leaving the legitimacy of the potential online voting in question, and that the proposal was brought before them too late in the semester for the council to properly consider the measure.
“The online elections measure was proposed to the senate last semester at the very last meeting,” said SGA chancellor of elections Chris Faulkner.
“The senators that were not in favor of it voiced concerns such as that they didn’t have enough time to review it, and voted on a motion saying they were in favor of online elections, but at that time didn’t want to change the bylaws without enough time for review,” he said.
However, a voter turnout hovering around 10 percent and a push from student legislators to make the elections more accessible and convenient has brought the voting referendum to the ballot in 2009.
A group of candidates for SGA office said they favored the initiative, introduced this year by Khana, and could only see increased participation and more student involvement in government resulting from holding elections online.
Khana said he has campaigned for online voting for several years, and that he feels the measure will remedy low voter turnout and keep the University in step with other major colleges which have moved their elections to the Web.
“In my research it seems like nearly every major college in the country uses an online voting system,” Faulkner said.
“So it seemed to me when we had a 10, 11 percent turnout on election day. The number-one thing we could do to change that would be to have an online election,” he added.
SGA candidates were largely in favor of the referendum.
Senior commuter senator candidate Charlie Felder called himself a “huge fan” of moving voting online, noting that the proposal “would only broaden voter turnout.”
Felder said that while the present system of holding elections in dining commons is not entirely flawed, he feels that format misses students who do not eat at the dining commons. “Relegating the voting process and electoral outcome to the will of students who casually or accidentally catch a glimpse of a voting booth like this is not all that ambitious,” he quipped.
Brandon Tower, a junior senate candidate from Southwest North, said that he has actively supported the move since last year, when he started a petition to move voting online and circulated it in his classes and then around campus.
“In all the time I spent knocking on doors, talking to students and asking for support,” he said, “only once did I find a student not in favor of such a system.”
Patrick Watson, a senate candidate from Central, said he felt the proposal would not only increase participation, but would help prospective voters be more informed in their choices, and allow for greater convenience.
“(Online voting) would also allow students to have information available about the candidates online, right as they vote, so not only would there be more votes, but there would be more informed votes,” he said.
Watson furthered that online voting would run around the clock, rather than just during dining common hours, giving students the convenience of voting when they wanted.
Janam Anand, a Webster/Dickinson presidential candidate, called the proposal “a superb idea.”
“I feel like the SGA is such a crucial part of the student body, and by making voting and biographies available online, a larger majority of the student population could get involved,” said Anand.
While a majority of the candidates held favorable opinions of the initiative, several expressed some reservations about the security of the computer systems.
Junior Northeast candidate Melissa Urban said she backs moving the elections online, citing the precedent of other universities holding Internet-based elections, but cautioned that the University must be wary of possible problems caused by Web voting.
“I do believe that online voting could be a great service to our campus and vastly increase voter turnout,” Urban said. “A large number of universities have already implemented an online voting system. Clearly this is not a new concept, and it’s achievable.”
However, she added, “it is important that we continue having conversations and learn from these other schools to work out potential glitches in the system before we put our own into effect.”
Azeen Khanmalek, a commuter senator candidate, echoed some concerns of last year’s SGA voting calling the threat of interference with online voting “an unacceptable concern,” and listing instances of University servers being hacked as evidence of potential flaws in an online voting system.
“I believe that online voting could be a huge step forward for voting practices,” said Khanmalek, “however, I feel that there are several issues that stand in the way of it becoming a functional and efficient reality.”
“My primary concern is security,” he said. “The problem is that online voting results are still vulnerable to external manipulation.”
“As much as we might not like it, voting, for now, is something that needs a paper trail so we can check and double check as to its legitimacy and fairness,” he continued.
One member of last year’s SGA who cited concerns about the past proposal said he favors online voting in principle, but has not specifically seen the wording of this proposal, which he said would be a determinant factor in his opinion.
“I haven’t actually had a chance to look at the wording of this year’s proposal,” said Subhan Tariq.
“In general principle I am in favor of online elections, because I feel that they will increase voter turnout and give more legitimacy to the SGA,” he said, adding that he had not spoken to other members of last year’s senate on their sentiments on the measure.
Modesto Montero, speaker of last year’s SGA, said, “I definitely think that online elections are something that we are behind on, I’m definitely on board with having an online election, my only hesitation is that there hasn’t been a full deliberation on where the money’s going to come from, how it’s going to be put into place, we were pretty much semi-blind-sided when we were given that motion, we found out at the last meeting, I feel like a lot of the senators want to ask questions and make sure things are going to be done right the first time, it has to be done right, I’m definitely for online election, I’m not feeling this whole big push for it without giving it adequate consideration, I think the way that’s done is by allowing the senators to hold the meeting, and ask questions and really really be thorough in the whole process.”
Sam Butterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.