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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Flaw in voting system brings election results into question

Published: March 24, 2006
Section: News

Flaws in the student online election system may have allowed members of the Class of 2005 to vote in this weeks and past Student Union elections this year, according to a Hoot investigation. The flaw was confirmed by Union Officials and is still unfixed for the Final Round of elections currently ongoing. Up to press time Round 1 primary results have not been invalidated.

At least seven cases of voting by the Class of 2005 have been confirmed by The Hoot. The alumni were able to log in to the elections system and vote, just like undergraduates. I votedit told me my vote counted, said Yoni Samlan 05, one of those in the Class of 2005 who voted in the election.

“Since my email account still works, I wanted to see if I could vote in the elections, so I ended up voting in the presidential and secretary races,” said Jaina Morgan 05.
Four other members of the Class of 2005 have told The Hoot under the condition of anonymity that they voted in the first round elections earlier this week and some have admitted to voting in earlier elections as well.

Former Union President Mark Schlangel 05 told The Hoot he voted in the Fair Trade Coffee referendum. Schlangel also confirmed that he voted in the first round of this weeks elections.

I keep current with some Brandeis news and I wondered if still having my UNET ID would enable me to vote, he said. Then I jokingly thought maybe I could fix the election, but that thought quickly exited my mind because I realized that if I am going to be a doctor I should focus on medical school.

Some Class of 2005 students who received a B.A./M.A. as part of their program reported that they were not allowed to vote. Former Union Treasurer and F-board chair Andre Khots B.A./M.A. 05 reported that he was one of the students who could not vote.

If it is determined that more illegitimate votes were cast than the smallest margin of victory in the last election, then the results may be invalidated, said to Union Secretary Aaron Braver 07.

Braver said it is his belief that all 2005 votes were recorded in the “other” category in the breakdown of votes by class year. However, in all the races but the Finance Race, The Hoot has confirmed that more alumni voted than votes recorded in the “other” category.

The online voting system provides a printout which shows vote tallies by class;

a copy of this printout was obtained by The Hoot. In the presidential race there were only four votes in the “other” category.

The staff from Library and Technology Services (LTS) has been contacted by the Student Union regarding this glitch following the Fair Trade Referendum. Students were not notified of this glitch at that time.

Ryan Williams, an LTS staff member, said Thursday that he would promptly look into the issue relating to 2005 alumni voting.

Williams said that more qualifiers were needed in the system to more accurately determine which voters are still undergraduates.

Undergraduates have been voting with the current online voting system for several years. According to the voting systems FAQ, it was written in Jan. 2001.

This is not the first time that non-students were allowed to vote in Union elections. Braver confirmed that similar votes were cast in the Fair Trade referendum vote last semester. Officials maintain that they informed LTS staff about the issue, but no progress has been made.

Also last semester, there was an error in the system which resulted in midyears being unable to vote;

however, that issue was addressed, according to Braver.

It is unclear if any races were adversely affected by the voting irregularities. The Hoot found no way in determining which votes were legitimate and which were not.

Braver suggested that the illegitimate votes were cast by past students who did not receive an email instructing them to vote, as legitimate voters typically receive prior to an election.

The errors may be related to how students currently log in to the voting system, according to Braver. The system currently allows users to vote once their UNET name and password has been entered. Normally, students who have graduated have their UNET accounts revoked, according to Braver. Some alumni accounts from the class of 2005 have not expired for whatever reason.

UNET accounts are usually revoked in December but due to an unexpectedly heavy workload LTS has not yet done so with last years graduates.

Other errors were reported in this weeks election. Some minority students suggested that they could not vote in the race for Finance Board Member for Racial Minority Students. Braver confirmed that this was a known issue;

he suggested that those errors were not the fault of the elections system and that those students may not have confirmed their minority status with the Office of the Registrar. Many of these students were reported to be international students.

LTS staff members, including ex-ITS administrator Rich Graves, have looked at replacing the current elections system in the past. There have been conversations about getting another system in place, said Williams.

Its been reliable to date, but its not a real elections system, he added.