Massachusetts Daily Collegian

SGA Online Voting Referendum met with support

By Sam Butterfield

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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 [email protected].


13 Responses to “SGA Online Voting Referendum met with support”

  1. Derek Khanna on September 28th, 2009 10:35 pm

    Actually, just a correction. Sean McNair gave the bill to committee very early in the semester. But the committee refused to hear the bill, and then it was forced upon the Senate floor. SGA President Malcolm Chu, now under investigation for stealing UMASS student fees, blocked this measure and refused it out of committee.

    After it was forced from committee to the Senate floor, the Senate refused to vote for it, and instead voted to “support such a concept.” This is after they were presented with 2500 signatures. So the SGA refused online voting because Malcolm Chu said that it would ruin their power base.

    As to security concerns, we trust everything else to OIT, and you don’t think that SGA elections can’t be falsified now? You think there hasn’t been ballot stuffing at UMASS? Do you think we are invulnerable from the same sham democratic practices of the developing world?

    No election at UMASS will be fully secure or without tarnish, but online elections are more secure than the current system and offer the best prospect to enfranchise more UMASS students.


  2. Dave Robertson on September 29th, 2009 12:29 am

    If I was to hack the UMass system the online voting is stored on, I’d go for every students social security number and bank account information rather then give myself a student government seat. Alot more important things are kept on those servers. I’d like to think the S.G.A. is important enough someone would want to hack into the servers, but it isn’t.


  3. Ed Cutting on September 29th, 2009 6:49 am

    SGA President Malcolm Chu, now under investigation for stealing UMASS student fees,

    Derek, I was one of the ones who broke that story, but lets keep this accurate. Under investigation by WHOM and for exactly WHAT?
    Facts do matter, and lets not just toss things like this into the wind without an anchor.

    you don’t think that SGA elections can’t be falsified now? You think there hasn’t been ballot stuffing at UMASS?

    Yes. For the record, there has been quite a bit of it.
    And then when the results came out the wrong way, the entire
    election was thrown out.

    If I was to hack the UMass system the online voting is stored on, I’d go for every students social security number

    Dave, that was done over the summer….

    What I would worry about – and Sean may perhaps be willing to explain why I shouldn’t – is a record of exactly whom the student voted for. In the student’s electronic transcript. That is the sort of thing that could come back to bite someone 20 years later – look at the Mugabe honorary degree mess.

    So you are going for a security clearance for the promotion at work, or you are running for Congress, or whatever, and someone finds out that you voted for the guy whom your girlfriend’s sister’s cousin asked you to vote for and (20 years later) he is a Communist or a Skinhead or whatever. That is the sort of thing that really can bite you – ask GW Bush about his 20 year old OUI conviction that was supposed to be sealed.

    So is there any legacy record of whom people voted for?


  4. Derek Khanna on September 29th, 2009 9:05 am

    No Ed, under investigation, like now. Not by “The Minuteman”


  5. Kelleyanne on September 29th, 2009 11:00 am

    The problem that we had in Senate last year was that we were all voting on something that we did not have enough time to think about. Moving to online elections seems very logical and great for informed voter turnout, except that I am still worried about over-the-shoulder voting, which is the only concern of mine that has not been addressed. I also believe that the second referendum question is a little misleading and caution people to read about all of the changes in the bylaw packet provided before making a decision.


  6. Derek Khanna on September 29th, 2009 2:40 pm

    Nice try Kellyanne, Kellyanne was part of the group that blocked online elections, then turns around and says “we didn’t have enough time.” It’s a pretty simple idea. At the meeting it was heard Senators had 4 hours to read it. Again, 4 hours.

    Does it take 4 hours to figure out, do you want online elections, or do you not want online elections? We’ve been talking about it for three years, I ran on that platform for President, Faulkner and Davidson talked about it. If you still don’t get it, you shouldn’t be involved in the SGA. It’s really a simple idea, every other college does it.

    Over the shoulder voting?? Because people don’t vote today out of pressure. And the referendum is online elections, it’s really not complicated at all. Why are you telling students to read the By-Law changes when you couldn’t figure it out after 4 hours? It’s really a simple idea.


  7. Jon on September 29th, 2009 7:04 pm

    A couple things I find utterly laughable.

    “Over the shoulder voting might happen!! OMGWTF!!”
    Nobody with anything resembling a life, cares enough to either exert or submit to pressure to vote in a freaking SGA election. The pitiful turnout figures, most of whom are people who have to go to the DC’s anyway and vote without any care or knowledge of the “issues”, clearly attest to that.

    “It might be hacked online!! oh noez!!”
    Yes, because an individual who hacks the official administrative computer network of a state university and risks years of jail time for doing so is not going to steal bank account numbers or SSN’s, they are going to hack votes for an SGA election. Because clearly, SGA Senate seats at UMass Amherst are a highly prized commodity on the black market being sold for millions of dollars apiece by unscrupulous underground hackers working to undermine student solidarity.

    “Power base”, “crucial part of the student body”, and other such terms.
    You must be kidding me. This is not a real political organization and it is certainly not crucial. There is a better chance of Ed becoming a left wing moonbat than there is of finding 10 UMass students on the street who can name a single member of the SGA. Simply because one perceives oneself to be important and is told so by all of one’s associates does not make it true. Collegiate student government is simply the same people that ran around in high school putting up posters and making speeches for senior privileges and a cheaper prom and all the other shit that never gets accomplished and nobody cares about. When they actually achieve anything that can make the majority of the student body stop and say “Hmm, this actually affects me and has benefited my daily life and my experience as a UMass Amherst student for the better, thanks SGA!” then they might be worthy of some attention.


  8. Arthur P. Hastings on September 29th, 2009 8:18 pm

    I’m sure removing cadidates from the ballot that SGA has personal issues with like Brad for example will be a whole lot easier now online. Now we’ll never know who truly won. Sweet deal guys


  9. Patrick Kenney on September 29th, 2009 9:13 pm


    You’re entitled to believe what ever you wish but not all of us in Senate were going to vote against online elections because of the administration opposing it. I was planning on voting it down simply because we were handed a lengthy proposal and had little time to consider it. You are right in saying we had spent several hours on the proposal but the majority of those hours were spent debating over security issues and not the actual content of the proposal. Should we have not been concerned with the massive amounts of change to our by-laws? To be clear, my and others decision was not a rejection of implementing online voting (considering we passed a resolution in favor of the idea), it was the inadequate time for us to make an informed decision on a complex issue.

    Regarding security issues: do you not believe those are legitimate concerns? As students, we should be commending our elected officials for wanting to uphold the integrity of our elections. Whether your in agreement or not, your job as a Senator is to engage in healthy debate over these types of concerns. No one should take issue with the Senate for doing what it was elected to do.

    P.S. With all due respect, your comments are taking on a childish tone. Please be mindful of how you approach discussing issues if you wish to get your points across. Thank you.


  10. Derek Khanna on September 30th, 2009 10:36 am

    I apologize to Mr. Kenney, he was one of a few Senators who were honestly debating the merits of the argument


  11. Kelleyanne on September 30th, 2009 12:17 pm

    While you are apologizing… I just wanted to remind you that I was no longer on senate when the vote for online elections took place because I had just been appointed to cabinet. I witnessed the meeting, but was not able to vote. If I had, my stance would have been the same; online elections sound like a good idea, but I have a few concerns.


  12. George on October 1st, 2009 10:48 am

    This is really great… the fact that over 1,100 students support online voting shows how ready UMass-Amherst is to enter the 21st century…


  13. Derek Khanna on October 3rd, 2009 11:25 pm

    Ms. Kelleyanne,

    I will no apologize to you, I never named you, and as you say you weren’t in Senate. But you were part of Malcolm Chu’s team that blocked online elections, so you can say whatever you want.


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