Online elections bill passes SGA Senate
First attempt: Fail. Second attempt: Fail. Third attempt: Fail.
What is now the fourth bill in favor of piloting online elections to reach the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association’s Administrative Affairs committee has now been passed through both committee and on the Senate floor as of Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
After several hours of discussion and a ten-minute debate session about implementing online elections during the Senate meeting, the bill was passed with two amendments added before it was voted in as a by-law change.
The first amendment states that if a candidate violates the Candidate Code of Conduct, then the Elections Commission has the ability to file a complaint to the Dean of Students Office and recommend judicial action be taken against the candidate.
The second amendment states that if a security audit of the elections by a third party or internal auditor cannot be performed, it will not invalidate the election.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,” said Administrative Affairs Chairman Jarred Rose.
The bill almost passed unanimously, with one Commuter Senator, Scott Aldrich-Holmes, voting in opposition to the bill.
“I thought tonight was excellent,” said Commuter Senator Derek Khanna, who co-sponsored the online elections bill with Commuter Senator Josh Davidson. “I was overjoyed that it was passed by an overwhelming majority. It’s about time.”
Wednesday’s Senate meeting brought Ken Abert, Vice President of Campus Pulse, the outlet chosen by the administration to facilitate online elections, to speak on the technical side of online elections.
Despite supporting Campus Pulse, Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jean Kim had not yet used Campus Pulse at the time of the SGA’s meeting.
“I meant to go on it [Campus Pulse] today, but I just did not get the chance,” said Kim.
“There were some students who wondered about the security of the hosting server and whether there could be referendum questions on the ballot and I said of course,” she continued. “I have been assured that [security] will not be an issue.”
“My purpose here tonight,” said Abert, “is to show you what could possibly be an online election through Campus Pulse.”
Campus Pulse IT professionals explained how the online election system would function via Campus Pulse. Students will be able to link directly to the elections through an e-mail sent out by the Elections Commission. At that point, students will be asked to set up a basic profile, including first and last names, and their UMass e-mail.
Students will be asked to select their residential area, as they can only vote for candidates in their area. Ballots will most likely contain candidate profiles, which will be approved by the Elections Commission. There will be a section on the Campus Pulse ballot for write-in nominees.
After the presentation by Campus Pulse employees, several members of the SGA fired off questions and concerns about the security of Campus Pulse.
“In our online voting systems, we also hope to have a paper ballot polling station,” said Northeast Senator Melissa Urban. “Is that possible, since there is no way to track who voted and who they voted for,” she asked.
Campus Pulse IT representatives responded, explaining the system keeps track of who voted, however, it does not keep track of who each student votes for.
He continued, “We could set it up to keep track of who students voted for, but from a confidentiality perspective, the only person who should know who they voted for is the person who submitted that ballot.”
Several senators expressed concern about hackers and voter fraud; however, explanations from the Campus Pulse employees addressed many of the concerns.
Southwest South Senator Elie Feinstein asked, “Has there ever been an instance of voter fraud or system hacking?”
Campus Pulse employees said there never had been an issue.
Jitesh Khushalani, the chancellor of elections, asked, “Is it possible to take a note of the IP address of the computers at which students are voting, so that people do not vote multiple times on the same computer?”
Khushalani gave the example of a “laptop party,” at which students would be voting for a candidate on one or several laptops.
The Campus Pulse representatives stated that, “As of right now, the IP addresses of voters are not databased.”
Abert stayed for the majority of the meeting to answer any technical questions surrounding Campus Pulse and its role in online elections.
At approximately 10:34 p.m., after a recess, prior to the debates about online elections between Senators, Commuter Senator William Cody was told by Speaker of the House Modesto Montero to remove himself from the meeting for disorderly conduct.
Cody refused, and Montero contacted UMPD shortly after their confrontation. Cody was allegedly seen drinking by a fellow senator, who wishes to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue, prior to the meeting. Cody was disruptive, shouting several curses and vulgar terms sporadically throughout the meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, Cody expressed his displeasure with having representatives from Campus Pulse present on the system’s functions.
After asking Montero why Abert was there to talk about Campus Pulse, Cody said, “Let me know when you want to start this meeting. [Expletive deleted] this [expletive deleted.]”
He then briefly exited out the room, but came back muttering other curses in the back of the meeting room.
After Cody was removed from the meeting by UMPD, Commuter Senator Charlie Felder, who was under the impression the bill would come to a close vote said, “That’s a vote we needed.”
Now that the online elections bill has passed the Senate with a sunset clause attached, meaning it will only be effective for the spring 2010 elections as a trial-run with the by-law changes expiring on June 1, students can expect online elections to occur as long as SGA President Ngozi Mbawuike does not veto the bill.
“I think she [Mbawuike] is going to veto it,” said Rose. “I’m going to try to talk to her to get her to not veto it. I don’t think she is going to have an opinion or concern that nobody has thought of tonight.”
The Senate would then need to override her veto and have the bill signed off on by Kim for the bill to go into effect.
“I am definitely going to sign online elections through,” said Kim. “The thing to keep in mind is that online voting, while this is a new issue on this campus, it’s been implemented around country for the past five or six years.”
Last Friday, Commuter Senator Andrew Berg resigned. Berg explained that the months of deliberation have resulted in increased “pressure coming down from Jean Kim’s office to have online elections implemented for the spring, no matter what.”
Berg said that, at that time, the deliberation had become much more than the online elections bill and rather “became an issue of having a representative democracy.”
“What’s the point of having an SGA if the only decisions we can make are the ones that the administration is fully in agreement with and the ones that benefit the resumes of those [in the administration],” Berg said.
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