SGA revises third bill to pass online elections

By Alyssa Creamer

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the University of Massachusetts’ Student Government Association’s administrative affairs committee will take a look at what is now the third bill involving the installation of online voting. If this bill passes through the committee, it will reach the SGA senate floor for vote during their meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

It has been over a year since senators in the SGA first began discussions on a bill proposing online voting for elections.

Last semester, 87 percent of voters were in favor of holding online elections.

But the SGA judiciary committee rejected the referendum on what senator Derek Khanna considers to be a “baseless technicality.” The problem stemmed from the involvement of former SGA elections commissioner Sean McNair, who partnered with Khanna prior to the creation of the referendum. The two canvassed online voting through a student petition that received more signatures than the number of students who voted during the general election of 2008 by over nine percent. As a result of McNair’s involvement in both the elections and the student petition for online voting, the judiciary rejected the referendum.

According to Jarred Rose, recently elected chairperson of the administrative affairs committee, the bill that had been rejected by the judiciary contained a lot of items within the document that “a lot of people [in the senate] did not like because they did not have to do with online voting.”

Rose continued saying that his committee has, in the past three weeks, revised the bill with the aid of members from the Center for Student Development and Student Legal Services, to specify the processes of the online voting system. Senators Khanna and Josh Davidson are sponsoring the bill being observed in committee.

If two-thirds of the senate votes the bill through, a trial-run of online elections is set to occur during this spring’s elections. This means that after launching online voting, the elections commission and the SGA’s administrative affairs committee would review the processes to determine whether the system should be voted in as a permanent procedure for all subsequent elections.

“I’m psyched Vice Chancellor Jean Kim has made it very clear the student body needs to have online elections,” said Khanna. “My understanding from her is that’s how most colleges do it.”

“It has taken far, far too long for this,” said Khanna about the process to install online elections. “It is very clear that the campus overwhelmingly supports the idea of online voting. I canvassed thousands of students, and I never once came across a student who was against it.”

Currently, several committee members believe that online voting will be hosted by the UMass Campus Pulse website, found at Students sign onto the site with their SPIRE identification number to ensure they only receive a single vote.

The website would also allow candidates an opportunity to write 750 words of text explaining his or her platform that would be placed on a separate, blank webpage. A link to this page would be placed underneath each of the candidates’ names, and all information displayed on the pages would need prior approval by the elections commission.

“Hyperlinks and pictures would not be allowed,” said Rose. “It gives the voter one last chance to read a candidate’s platform. [Committee members] definitely considered the fact that normal elections do not have candidate’s platforms listed on the ballot, but we feel it could really benefit both the candidate and the voter.”

“Many times students are unaware of a candidate’s platform because of restrictions placed on campaigns from both the elections commission and the campus population’s size,” he added.

Restrictions, according to several members of the SGA, include the elections commissions’ candidate code of conduct bylaw stating that candidates for senate may only spend up to $10 campaigning. Seventy-five dollars may be spent campaigning by the president and trustee. Additionally, it is also written in the bylaws that campaign materials must be bought at Campus OnCopy. At seven cents per sheet of paper, according to Rose, “that money gets eaten up really fast.”

The online voting period is currently laid out in the bill to last three full days, during which traditional paper ballots will also be available, but in fewer locations than in past elections.

The committee is also reviewing the election processes’ bylaw that does not allow for candidates to directly speak about their opponents during their campaign.

On Feb. 6, Rose held one-on-one sessions in the SGA office with the majority of Senators to discuss the bill. Rose said that he believes “more than two-thirds of the senators actively agree that online voting would be a good thing for students.”

“Online voting will bring in more people into the voting election,” he said. He explained that the commuter population would have an easier time voting and that the installation of online voting could bring about few issues to the election process.

There are some senators who do not agree wholeheartedly with the bill.

“I still have major concerns … We want a voting system that is secure and remains fully in student control,” said senator Andrew Berg. “It still is unclear as to whether Campus Pulse is able to meet these needs. It would be a great tragedy if we traded away student control of elections to a third party for the sake of convenience alone.”

Berg continued to say that he “is not sure whether it is still an acceptable compromise to trade away the SGA’s ability to conduct its own elections to a third party for something that is shiny, flashy and new, but doesn’t necessarily increase voter turnout.”

Tuesday’s committee meeting will take place in room 905 of the campus center at 6 p.m. It is open to the public.

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected].